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Hazardous Waste Management Issues And Laws During Covid-19

Today our lives have changed due to COVID-19 pandemic in many ways. The movement and exposure to the outer world is now limited and it feels like the time and the everyday race has suddenly come to a pause. This limitation through the medium of lockdown has had some positive effects on the environment which was short lived.

The environment before the lockdown was subjected to continuous and rapid degradation due to the depletion of the important natural resources such as air, water, soil etc. and the temperature of the Earth was rising at an alarming rate due to the green house gases which have been emitted over the centuries.

The rising temperature of the Earth due to the green house effect was causing a lot of harm to the environment, mainly its effect on the Ozone layer; which protects us from the UV (ultraviolet) Rays of the Sun, the melting of the glaciers causing a rise in the sea levels and the air around us was toxic to breathe. But after the corona virus lockdown, there have been slight changes in the environment.

Statistics show the air quality in many places improved because of the lockdown imposed by many countries. The lockdown decreased or even stopped the movement of humans which resulted in less pollution causing vehicles on the road. Even the industries were not allow to function and were closed down.

This in turn led to a significant decrease in the nitrous oxide emission making the air around us clean and comparatively safer to breathe. Changes were also noticed in the water quality since no boats for pleasure, fishing or any other use were plying on the rivers and waterways, this made the water cleaner. In Venice, the water became so clear that fishes could be seen easily and the water flow also improved and clean water bodies have helped the aquatic life to recover. Apart from the aquatic life, animals have been spotted moving about freely in places where once they would not dare to go.

It seems that this pandemic was somewhat a necessity to put a pause to the never ending human race and most importantly for the environment, so that it can get some time to recover from the damages done by humans. But, there are many negative impacts of this pandemic which will cause a significant amount of damage in a long and even in a short run; moreover as the life in this pandemic has started going back to normal, the positive impacts have also started to disappear.

The major concern today is the large amount of hazardous waste which is being generated from the house hold, from the hospitals etc. on daily bases like:- masks, PPE( personal protective equipment) kits and other biomedical waste which is contaminated with the corona virus and needs proper management and disposal.

Facts About Covid-19

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new kind of coronavirus. 'CO' stands for corona, vi stands for virus, and 'D' for disease. Earlier, this disease was referred to as 2019 novel coronavirus or '2019-nCoV.' The COVID-19 virus is a new virus which is linked to the same family of viruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and other types of communicable disease like common cold.[1]

What are the symptoms of covid-19?

Covid-19 can be deadly in rare cases. Symptoms may include fever, cough, shortness of breath and tiredness; these being the most common symptoms there are other symptoms which are rare like diarrhea, sore throat, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste or smell etc. These symptoms are similar to other diseases like common cold or flu (influenza), which are more common than COVID-19. There are also many cases where the patient if asymptomatic. This is why testing is required to find out if someone is positive with COVID-19.

How does COVID-19 spread?

The virus is transmitted by coming in direct contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person which is generated through coughing and sneezing. Individuals can also be infected by touching surfaces which are contaminated with this virus and then touching their face (mouth, nose, eyes, etc). The virus can stay on different surfaces for various hours but it can be killed by simple disinfectant.

What is the treatment for COVID-19?

A lot of research is going on across the world for COVID-19 but there's no presently obtained immunizing agent or vaccine . However, many of the symptoms can be treated by getting care and first aid at earlier stage by healthcare providers who can make the illness less dangerous. There are many different clinical trials that are being conducted to evaluate potential medical specialty for COVID-19.

How can the spread of COVID-19 be slow downed or prevented?

Public health measures include everyday preventive actions such as: [2]
  • staying home when sick or unwell;
  • Covering nose and mouth with flexed elbow or tissue while coughing or sneezing and to eliminate the used tissue immediately;
  • washing hands at regular intervals with soap and water; and
  • Cleaning touched surfaces and objects frequently or at regular intervals. As we tend to learn additional about COVID-19, public health officials may advocate extra actions.

Present Scenario And Existing Problems

Today, we have new necessities added to our lives which include masks, sanitizers, PPE kits and other ways to protect us from this pandemic. Different kinds of medical and hazardous wastes include infected protective equipments such as masks, gloves, etc, along with a higher quantity of non-infected items of the same nature are produced during an outbreak.
  • During COVID-19 the usage of water has increased significantly because in order to protect us from this virus we need to wash our hands at regular intervals, take a bath if coming home from a crowded place or a place from where you can easily get infected, everything washable like fruits and vegetables that can carry the virus have to be properly washed before coming in contact etc. This increase in the use of water is the need of the hour but like all the other natural resources water is also limited and in many states of India it is already scarce and not easily available for everyone.
  • Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) like body suits, face masks, hand gloves and shoe covers have played a crucial role in battling the raging coronavirus pandemic all over the world. But an apparent failure on the part of authorities in planning and ensuring proper, post-use disposal of these highly infectious items has given a rise to a parallel crisis. Being produced in bulk from hospital labs, homes, hotels and other places (where thousands are in quarantine), besides crematoriums and burial grounds, bio-medical waste is continuously piling up in the country.
  • A Mail Today reality check found that much of the hazardous waste is being dangerously dumped in landfills as incineration plants have started to run out of capacity. According to the rules bio-medical waste should be collected in yellow bags properly by trained workers who are equipped with protective gear for safe disposal. But they are seldom followed. An utter disregard for norms was on full display at Lodhi Crematorium in Delhi where people bodies of Covid-19 patients are allowed to be cremated at its electric facility. One day, the parking was littered with a heap of PPE kits along with other plastic and house-hold waste. Most people who came to cremate their relatives were they wear PPE kits. But they just throw them around while leaving. If not discarded properly, these kits, as per experts, could potentially turn into virus spreading vessels. The quantum of COVID-19 biomedical waste generated in only the national capital has increased from 25 tonnes per day in May to 349 tonnes per day in July, this was stated by the Environment and Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority in a report submitted to the Supreme Court. According to data shared by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Delhi had generated 372 tonnes of COVID-19 biomedical waste per day in June.
  • The problem starts with the households, with so many Covid-19 patients under home quarantine, residential complexes are also contributing to the piling up of bio-medical waste. In the absence of proper labeled bins in neighbourhoods, PPE suits, gloves and masks are mostly dumped along with routine garbage in municipal vans used for door-to-door collection.
  • Another issue is that waste is not segregated during collection which as a result puts the sanitation workers who handle this waste at risk. So many sanitation workers have tested positive for the virus of which many have lost their lives. It is hard to acknowledge which house has Covid-19 patients. Some houses with positive cases throw contaminated waste on roads. On conducting medical examination of sanitation employees, most of them would be found positive, said the president of Delhi Sanitation Employees' Union.
  • Ever since the news of human-to-human transmission of coronavirus hit the world media, there was a sudden surge in demand for masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, and other essential commodities. The WHO modeling estimated a requirement of 89 million medical masks for the COVID-19 response each month and 76 million examination gloves, while international demand for goggles stands at 1.6 million per month.[3]
  • Infectious waste is not confined to hospitals and healthcare centers alone as people with minor symptoms or who are asymptomatic also generate virus-laden waste (discarded masks, gloves, tissues, etc.,). Since the virus can persist in cardboard, plastic, and metals for hours to days, throwing or dumping such waste indiscriminately can endanger the lives of workers involved in waste management. The situation may become even more critical in developing nations where waste management workers are not equipped with proper personal protective equipment (PPE). The rag pickers and informal waste collectors in countries like India are in the high-risk zone of getting infected from the waste contaminated with the virus.[4]
  • Pre-COVID-19 waste treatment systems that were designed for moderate variation could now operate abnormally due to dramatic changes in the quantum as well as quality of waste . A scientific analysis could be an effective way to analyze the ability of existing systems to absorb these changes in waste generation during pandemics. Before the COVID-19 crisis, approximately 2 billion people worldwide lacked access to waste collection and approximately 3 billion lacked controlled waste disposal facilities. Therefore, ensuring the waste collection, transportation, and disposal with minimal health and safety risks has become a challenging endeavour in many developing countries. Lack of technical information and awareness, various scientific and economical resources for hazardous waste management in a developing nation are other limiting factors.[5]
  • The pandemic has forced panic shopping of necessary items including food which has resulted in unnecessary stockpiling of such perishable items. Hoarding food items with low shelf-life and sometimes without cold storage facility may generate more waste. Also, total lockdowns forced down by nations could lead people to buy groceries online, which likely causes a surge in packaging (paper and plastic) waste. New York City has reportedly seen an increase in residential solid waste generation from 5 to 30%, and a dip in the commercial and industrial sector by as much as 50%. All the cases depicting the dynamics of nature and size of the waste generation fortify the need for special attention to waste management in the time of a global pandemic such as COVID-19.[6]

Laws And Guidelines For Proper Waste Management

  1. India has set its own guidelines by the Central Pollution Control Board, India for safe disposal of biomedical waste which is generated during treatment, diagnosis, and quarantine of patients with COVID-19.

    It is to be noted that India was one of the first countries to take a proactive step in this direction. The Central Pollution Control Board guidelines provide all the necessary steps for safe and effective disposal of waste generated from various places like isolation wards with COVID-19 patients, sample Collection Centers and Laboratories for COVID-19 suspected patients and quarantine camps/home-care facilities. The guidelines also lay down the duties of Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facilities, State Pollution Control Boards and Urban Local Bodies.

    The key actions mandatory for various stakeholders include the following:
    Separate and different colour coded bins/bags/containers in wards and maintaining proper segregation of waste as per Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016.
    • Double-layered bags (using 2 bags) for assortment of waste from COVID-19 isolation wards to make sure zero-leaks.
    • Marked assortment bin and temporary storage area of biomedical waste before surrendering the same to authorized staff at Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment Facility for priority treatment and immediate or proper disposal.

      Maintaining separate record of waste generated from COVID-19 isolation wards.
    • Disinfection of inner and outer surface of containers/bins/trolleys used for storage of COVID-19 waste with one per cent bleach resolution daily.
    • Reporting operation of COVID-19 ward and COVID intensive care unit ward to SPCBs and various CBWTF situated within the space.
    • Dedicated sanitation staff for medical specialty waste so that COVID-19 waste can be often collected and transferred timely to temporary waste hold.
    • General solid waste generated from quarantine centers to be handed over to waste collector known by Urban native Bodies (ULBs).
    • Biomedical waste which is generated from the quarantine centers or camps have to be collected specifically in yellow colored bags (suitable for hazardous biomedical waste collection) provided by ULBs.
    • COVID-19 waste to be disposed-off once it is received by the Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF). The CBWTF could use any of the permissible strategies or methods given under the Bio-medical Waste Management Rules, 2016. These strategies include combustion also known as incineration, Plasma shift, Autoclaving/Hydroclaving, microwaving, chemical disinfectant, among others.

      The challenge of safe disposal and treatment of COVID-19 related to hazardous biomedical waste is increasing day by day and to facilitate additional action and consider innovative solutions, the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India together with Invest India in accordance with the 'Waste to Wealth Mission' has recently announced the COVID-19 Biomedical waste treatment innovation challenge. [7]
  2. The Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008(HWR)

    Management of hazardous waste is a terribly complicated issue. Some specific rules and regulations are required, which together form the legit regime. These Rules place an obligation on the occupier of hazardous waste for safe sound and proper handling of environmental waste.

    The occupier is the person under whose charge there is a plant or unit or factory which generates hazardous waste as a result of their operations or work. The occupier must transfer the hazardous waste to a re-processor or recycler, who is legally permitted by the government to eliminate the waste in a safe manner. Anyone who is engaged in storage, package, collection, destruction, conversion, processing, etc. of such waste, also has to take authorization for the State Pollution Board.

    The recyclers, occupiers, re-users, re-processors can store the waste for not more than 90 days.

    Sale or transfer of hazardous waste can only be done post obtaining a valid registration form Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Use of the waste as a source of energy also requires proper registration from the CPCB.

    The trans-boundary shipment or movement of hazardous waste is regulated and governed by the Basel Convention, to which India is a signatory. Import of hazardous waste for disposal and elimination in India is illegal, although import for the purpose of reuse, recovery as an energy source and recycling is permitted but is subjected to certain restrictions. India permits the export of hazardous waste but only with the prior informed consent of the importing country.
  3. The Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011(PWR):

    The PWM Rules are a set of regulatory framework with a purpose to control the use, manufacture, and recycling of plastic waste. Plastic waste consists of any plastic product which has been discarded after it has been completely used. The Rule is uniformly applicable towards all distributors, users, retailers and manufacturers of these plastic products.

    Rule 9 makes it mandatory for every manufacturer or maker of plastic products and recycler to obtain registration and authorization from the State Pollution Control Board. This registration should be renewed every three years. Rule 10 states that no retailer can provide or distribute plastic bags free of cost.

    This is done in order to ensure that people use plastic bags judicially and in a limited way. The PWM rules also lays down specify details of plastic products such as the classification of different types of plastics like compostable, recyclable or virgin plastic, thickness, and colour etc. Recycling of plastic products has to be done in a fixed manner which is laid down by The Bureau of Indian Standard Specification.
  4. Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998(BMWR):

    These rules aim to ensure that bio-medical wastes are safely and properly disposed and eliminated. Bio-medical waste can be defined as any waste or byproduct produced during immunization and treatment of human beings or animals or related to research activities. Schedule I of these Rules, divides biological wastes into different categories like microbiological and biotechnological, human anatomical, animal anatomical, discarded medicines, chemical related waste and others.

    The BMW Rules apply to various institutions which include nursing homes, animal houses, veterinary homes, blood banks, dispensaries, pathological laboratories, etc. The BMW Rules prohibit the mixing of biological wastes with any other kind of wastes.

    The general rule provided in these rules is bio-medical wastes ca not be stored for more than 48 hours without being treated. Rule 8 (1) lays down that every occupier or any institution which is dealing with biological waste to take an authorization from the State Pollution Control Board. Further, according to Rule 5 (2), all institutions covered under the rules are to compulsorily set up treatment facilities like microwave system, autoclave, etc.[8]
  5. Amendments in Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016 Rules:

    Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016 (BMW) Rules are amended for improvement in compliance and to strengthen the implementation and execution of environment friendly management of dangerous biomedical waste in India.

The amended rules states that the producers of bio-medical waste such as hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and dispensaries etc. are not permitted to use chlorinated plastic bags and gloves from March 27th, 2019 on wards for medical use to save the environment and to live in clean surroundings. According to the amended BMW rules 2018, Blood bags have been exempted for phase-out.

Salient/main features of Bio-Medical Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018 (BMW) Rules are as follows:

Bio-medical waste producers which are hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, dispensaries, veterinary establishments, animal homes, pathological laboratories, blood banks, and other clinical institutions shall stop the use of chlorinated plastic bags not including blood bags and gloves by March 27, 2019.

All medical and healthcare facilities have to publish proper annual report on its website within a period of two years from the date of publication and implementation of the Bio-Medical Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018 (BMW) Rules.

Operators of common bio-medical waste treatment and disposal facilities shall establish and create bar coding and global positioning system for proper handling of bio-medical waste according to the guidelines laid down by the Central Pollution Control Board by March 27, 2019.

The State Pollution Control Boards/ Pollution Control Committees shall compile, review and analyze the information received and transfer this information to the Central Pollution Control Board in a new Form (Form IV A), which will consist of detailed information regarding district-wise bio-medical waste generation, information regarding Health Care Facilities having captive treatment facilities and information consisting of common bio-medical waste treatment and disposal facilities.

Every occupier, i.e. someone having administrative control on the institution and their premises generating/producing biomedical waste shall pre-treat the laboratory waste, microbiological waste, blood samples, and blood bags by the methods of disinfection or sterilization on-site in the exact manner as prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO) or guidelines on safe management of wastes from health care activities and WHO Blue Book 2014 and then transfer it to the Common bio-medical waste treatment facility for final disposal.[9]

The best practices from different countries of the world are worth looking at:
The disposal of medical waste produced by COVID-19 infected patients undergoes a strict treatment protocol so that the spread of virus can be contained. Such dangerous Medical waste is being disposed at safe sites as quickly as possible to limit and possibly end any possibility of the viral spread. Firefighters have been set up to ensure quick disposal at waste disposal sites where the environment protection department safely and efficiently disposes off the waste.

United States of America
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been really fast to release a temporary policy for the establishments generating hazardous waste (including the generation of medical waste) in the times of this COVID-19 pandemic. The EPA has shown special thrust on proper labeling for easier identification and safe elimination of the waste.

These regulations require segregation of regulated hazardous medical waste from ordinary solid waste and a special treatment process so that it can be rendered non-infectious before final disposal. Adding on, the Occupational Safety and Health Management guidelines, under the US Department of Labour, advises the use of specific engineering and administrative controls, protected work practices, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which includes puncture-resistant gloves, face and eye protection, so that the exposure to the virus of the workers can be prevented.

In France, the government has decided to make sure door-to-door collection of waste as per usual frequency, with segregation instructions to citizens. Objects like masks, glasses, gloves, tissues, etc. that are can be an infection risk for both the environment and professional workers in charge of treating them, have to be disposed in a hermetically sealed bag. Any pungent, cutting, or puncturing waste has to be collected in airtight containers specially made and managed by the specifically designated institutions.

Self-treatment infected patients have the option to obtain and access a waste collection-box free of charge from the pharmacy by presenting their prescription. When the box is full it must be closed properly and returned to a collection point, after which the waste can be properly and adequately disposed.

The German government has designated highest priority for the safety of waste management workers and the containment of COVID-19. Proper measures have been taken for handling and collection of waste from private households where there are confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus. Handkerchiefs, tissues, and similar kind of wastes have to be disposed as residual waste and restricted use of separate waste collection systems (e.g. paper bin, bio bin, yellow bag) is instructed.

The residual waste is then treated in the Bavarian waste incineration or combustion plants to make sure the safe destruction of such contaminated waste at very high temperatures of up to 1,000 �C.[10]

It's early to possess exact figures, but by some estimates, medical waste generation has magnified six-fold compared to the older times that is; pre-COVID-19 times. As per the reports of The South China Morning Post, throughout the peak of the happening in Wuhan, it was coping with 240 plenty of medical waste per day (about the burden of associate degree adult blue whale), versus forty tons before that. Within the Indian situation, there's lack of actual knowledge on the topic, however conservative estimates draw a grim image.

As per a joint report by Associated Chambers of Commerce and business of Asian country (Assocham) and rate in 2018, the overall amount of medical waste generated in Asian country (in 2018) was 550 TPD, and these figures area unit seemingly to extend getting ready to 775.5 TPD by 2022. Looking at these statistics and adding to them, the waste generated during the COVID-19 crisis, this situation is nothing short of challenging and it may worsen in the coming months as this pandemic is not even near to its end.

Because of reduced economic activities thanks to COVID-19, have actually created air and water cleaner as per several reports, modification within the dynamics of plastic, food, and medical specialty waste generation throughout constant time has but stirred the woes of solid waste management. The virus-laden waste from indiscriminately discarded face masks, gloves, and different medical specialty waste with the regular waste stream might cause heath risk to the sanitation employees.

The waste from isolation wards, quarantine centers has to be handled severally whereas regular waste stream is handled as per the regular waste management provisions. The plastic usage is bound to increase because of the increased use of personal protection and healthcare items, and little can be done to avoid it but strict management guidelines and its proper implementation is necessary to live in a clean and protected environment and to effectively fight against this deadly virus.[11]

  3. WHO, 2020c-
  5. Kleme� et al., 2020
  6. WHO. (2020b). COVID-19 Strategy Up Date. The World Health Organization.

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