UN urges governments to recognise waste as an essential service

In the wake of COVID-19, the United Nations (UN) is urging global governments to recognise waste management, including medical, household and other hazardous waste, as an “urgent and essential public service.”

According to a UN statement, treating waste as an essential service has the potential to minimise the secondary impacts of COVID-19 on human health and the environment.

“During such an outbreak, many types of additional medical and hazardous waste are generated, including infected masks, gloves and other protective equipment, together with a higher volume of non-infected items of the same nature,” the statement reads.

“Unsound management of this waste could cause unforeseen “knock-on” effects on human health and the environment. The safe handling, and final disposal of this waste is therefore a vital element in an effective emergency response.”

Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Secretary Rolph Payet said all branches of society must work collectively to minimise the human and economic impacts of COVID-19.

“In tackling this enormous and unprecedented challenge, I urge decision-makers at every level: international, nationally, and at municipal, city and district levels, to make every effort to ensure that waste management, including that from medical and household sources, is given the attention – indeed priority – it requires in order to ensure the minimisation of impacts upon human health and the environment from these potentially hazardous waste streams,” Mr Payet said.

Effective management of biomedical and health-case waste requires appropriate identification, collection, separation, storage, transportation, treatment and disposal, according to the UN statement.

“The safe management of household waste is also likely to be critical during the COVID-19 emergency,” the statement reads.

“Medical waste such as contaminated masks, gloves, used or expired medicines, and other items can easily become mixed with domestic garbage, but should be treated as hazardous waste and disposed of separately.”

Furthermore, the UN statement suggests medical waste be separately stored from other household waste streams and collected by specialist municipality or waste management operators.

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Global initiative of 290 companies to end plastic waste

UK charity Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme have led an initiative of more than 290 companies to end plastic waste pollution.

Companies including Veolia, Suez, H&M, Nestle, Philips, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, L’Oreal, Mars, WWF, Walmart and Johnson & Johnson have signed an agreement to reach long-term targets, which will be reviewed every 18 months.

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The targets include eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging and moving to a reusable packaging model, ensuring 100 per cent of plastic packaging can be recycled or composted by 2025, and increasing the amount of recycled or reused plastics used in new packaging or products.

More than $200 million has been pledged by five venture capital funds to help build the circular economy for plastics.

“We know that cleaning up plastics from our beaches and oceans is vital, but this does not stop the tide of plastic entering the oceans each year. We need to move upstream to the source of the flow,” Ellen MacArthur said in a statement.

“The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment draws a line in the sand, with businesses, governments and others around the world uniting behind a clear vision for what we need to create a circular economy for plastic.

“This is just one step on what will be a challenging journey, but one which can lead to huge benefits for society, the economy and the environment,” she said.

Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider said the Global Commitment is an urgently needed step-change to move from a linear economy to a circular one.

“We want to act and lead by example. We will do our part to ensure that none of our packaging, including plastics, ends up in the natural environment,” Mr Schneider said.

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