Better segregation of biomedical waste needed: EPCA
The report stated that the volume of waste generated in June was marginally higher, 372.47 tonnes per day, but this was because biomedical waste from patients in home isolation and quarantine centres was not segregated and so general waste was mixed with it.Updated: Jul 31, 2020 07:10 IST
The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Protection (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), in its report released on Thursday highlighting the status of handling of biomedical waste in Delhi-NCR, said that in July, Delhi generated around 350 tonnes of medical waste from Covid-19 patients daily.
The report also suggested the need for better segregation of biomedical waste in households and quarantine centres housing Covid-19 patients.
The report stated that the volume of waste generated in June was marginally higher, 372.47 tonnes per day, but this was because biomedical waste from patients in home isolation and quarantine centres was not segregated and so general waste was mixed with it. In May, the quantum of biomedical waste generated was 25.187 tonnes per day.
Also, it said that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was an increase in the amount of plastic waste being generated in the form of PPE kits, gloves and face shields, among others, which in turn was adding to the problems of general solid waste management in the city. “The collection of such waste—which is not from infected households or quarantine centres—is a huge challenge as it increases the need for segregation at the household level so that general waste can be recycled and is not sent to landfills,” the report stated.
The report is based on the data shared by the Central Pollution Control Board and state pollution control boards of Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Rajasthan.
“CPCB assesses that at the current rate of biomedical waste generation and if there is adequate segregation, then the Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facilities (CBWTFs) are adequate in the region,” it said.
Data shows that at this rate of waste generation, Delhi can treat 2,220 tonnes of waste per month while Haryana can treat 288 tonnes per month, UP 1,656 tonnes per month and Rajasthan can treat 72 tonnes per month.
It further said that while the system for the collection of biomedical waste from healthcare facilities and registered laboratories is well established, the biomedical waste generated in homes and quarantine centres is where the key complication arises, as urban local bodies (and increasingly village panchayats, as positive cases increase in rural areas) have to track patients in realtime and then set up systems for the collection of waste from individual households located in different parts of the city.
The municipal corporations—North, East, South, New Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad and Ghaziabad—have told the SC panel that they had set up systems to collect the waste from individual households and quarantine centres and send it to CBWTFs.
However, the report pointed out that the South and North Delhi municipal corporations were sending the biomedical waste to Waste-To-Energy plants instead of CBWTFs.
“WTEs are not designed to incinerate biomedical waste, which needs a double insulator and protocols for storage and emission control,” the report highlights.
To this, a senior North Corporation official, who didn’t wish to be named, said, “We are investigating the possibility of sending the waste to a CBWTF and will try to ensure the same.”
In its recommendations, Epca also urged the SC to direct the ministry of forests and environment (MoEF) and CPCB to work out a national bar-coding system (a portal) for tracking of biomedical waste. “The task must not be left to CBWTFs, as it will not allow for good management,” it said.
Epca chairman Bhure Lal said that so far the handling of biomedical waste has been satisfactory, however, all states need to maintain a strict vigil. “An issue with the collection and segregation of waste was observed in houses under isolation as well as at quarantine centres. Households must be educated about the same and must cooperate in the task for better management of such waste and not allowing infection to spread at all,” said Lal.
Experts said that there could be a waste crisis if proactive steps are not taken by government agencies to handle the biomedical waste.
They said considering the scale of the Covid-19 infection, the government will need to come up with a detailed plan to tackle biomedical waste generated in hospitals, quarantine centres and households. Sirajuddin Ahmed, a professor at the civil engineering department in Jamia Milia Islamia, said that either the government needs to make arrangements of dedicated trash bins for the disposal of hazardous waste such as masks and gloves, or it should be made mandatory that residents’ welfare associations, market associations and other commercial establishments place such bins on their premises for segregating this category of waste.
“We are seeing a surge of not only biomedical waste in hospitals but also in households now. The key to tackling this waste is to provide people with the facility to dispose of this gear safely. The government will also need to create more awareness among citizens on the need for segregating such waste,” Ahmed said.