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.