Proper disposal of masks and gloves used at home is needed to curb spread of Covid-19, say experts

ByPrayag Arora Desai
Mar 24, 2020 11:11 PM IST

Gurugram: With India having expanded its testing criteria and capabilities for Sars-Cov-2 virus, and with experts predicting a surge in the number of positive Covid-19 cases in coming weeks, the quantity of biomedical waste generated from the diagnosis and treatment of such patients is set to increase manifold.

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While officials in the health department and the Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB) said that hospitals in Gurugram are equipped to deal with the load, experts have cautioned that safe disposal of possibly infectious waste, such as face masks and gloves, needs to be done at home as well to curb health and environmental risks associated with the deadly virus.

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Dr Sushila Kataria, an internal medicine specialist at Medanta hospital who was involved in the treatment of 14 Italian tourists who were discharged on Monday, said, “Biomedical waste is now being generated even at household level. Such waste must be disposed separately, especially if you are quarantined with someone who tested positive, or is suspected to be infected. When disposing gloves, they must be turned inside out. As for masks, I would advise people to pour boiling water on it before disposing them separately. The virus may live on such infected protective gear for at least three hours.”

In hospitals, too, generation of biomedical waste may pose a challenge in coming weeks. “Treatment of a confirmed Covid-19 case generates about 15 times more waste than an average patient. From what they wear to the plates you serve them food in, it is all disposed,” said Kataria.

Experts said that both biomedical and municipal waste management systems in Gurugram, as with the rest of the country, will be challenged by the Covid-19 outbreak, particularly given their poor compliance with central guidelines, such as the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016.

Gurugram and most other major metros in the country have so far been unable to enforce source segregation, or ensure safe working conditions for those involved in the collection and disposal of household waste.

Dr Neeraj Yadav, deputy medical superintendent, Gurugram, confirmed that suspected or confirmed patients under quarantine are being provided yellow bags to dispose of possibly infected waste, such as headcaps, masks, and tissues. The civil surgeon’s office is coordinating collection from these homes by the biomedical waste concessionaire, who incinerates the waste at the city’s common biomedical waste treatment facility.

“The municipal waste collector is not involved,” Yadav said.

Piyush Goel, a pulmonologist who practises at a private hospital in the city, said, “Caution will need to be exercised by those practising home-care, either out of precaution or on official instructions. They should dispose their masks, gloves and so on separately. Studies have shown that the Sars-Cov-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, can continue to live on surfaces such as wood, cardboard, plastic and steel for as many as eight hours, or more. These materials may make their way into household waste, causing recurrent transmission through surface contamination. The degree of risk for India in this regard still needs to be evaluated.”

Goel also suggested that household surfaces, such as tables and countertops, should be regularly disinfected with soap, bleach or alcohol-based sanitiser while practising home-care.

While these steps will minimise risk for those at home, without proper segregation, one might be putting at risk the lives of sanitation workers, waste pickers, and health workers who may come in contact with affected waste.

“Municipal authorities need to ensure full protective gear for these people,” said Natasha Zarine, a solid waste management expert from Aurangabad, Maharashtra, who is working with the municipal corporation there to improve working conditions for waste pickers during the outbreak.

Zarine suggested that effective implementation of a three-way segregation system for households must be enforced, with households segregating their waste into dry, organic and hazardous. “Tissues, masks and gloves need to be separated into the third category, which is to be processed separately. While this is mandated as per SWM Rules, most public campaigns, including Swachh Bharat, have only stressed on two-way segregation so far,” she added.

As per guidelines published by the Central Pollution Control Board on March 18, any suspected Covid-19 waste from homes and quarantine centres should be collected in yellow bags and then handed over to authorised waste collectors, who will then hand it over to a common biomedical waste treatment facility.

“However, given the general state of waste collection in India, the machinery will come under pressure. A third level of segregation is imperative, especially if the waste is infectious,” said Swati Sambyal, an independent waste management expert and former head of the CSE’s waste monitoring programme.

Dr Rajib Dasgupta, associate professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said, “Fabrics can be washed and disinfected, but tissues, face masks and single-use applications which may contain nasa-pharngyeal secretions will remain infectious for some time, and must be disposed keeping this in mind. Those involved in sanitation work should be given full protective gear as they are more at risk.”

Meanwhile, the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram’s concessionaire for solid waste management is also taking precautions to protect waste collectors from contracting Covid-19. A spokesperson for Ecogreen Energy said, “Our waste collectors have been provided masks and hand sanitizers, and briefed on how to stay safe. Garbage is being collected from houses regularly and with great caution, while thermal scans and health check-ups are also being provided for all employees. Garbage cars are also being sanitized three times a day.”

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