Healthcare Waste Poses Threat on the Environment and on People’s Health

In two years since the coronavirus began to spread worldwide, tens of thousands of tonnes of medical waste have been accumulated.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned everyone that the vast amount of waste generated as part of efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to humans and the environment.

The fallout of COVID worldwide

They sent more than 140 million test kits capable of generating 2,600 tonnes of non-infectious waste (mostly plastic) and 731,000 liters of chemical waste, and more than eight billion doses of vaccine has been injected around the world, resulting in an additional 144,000 tonnes of waste in the form of syringes, needles, and safe containers.

A new report from the United Nations Health Organization said last Tuesday, Feb. 1, as per the WHO.

The 71-page document shared that the 87,000 tonnes of private protecting equipment (PPE) ordered via a United Nations portal between March 2020 and November 2021 ended up as waste.

Additionally, as per Aljazeera, over a hundred and forty million test kits are shipped, with the potential to come up with 2,600 tonnes of primarily plastic and enough chemical waste to fill a third of an Olympic pool.

Garbage mainly made of plastic threatens human and environmental health and exposes a need to improve practices.

Healthcare waste increases as COVID-19 continues

(Photo : Akshan Forouzani/Unsplash)
Published on March 18, 2020 a man holding a facemask

According to the United Nations, less attention and resources have been put into the safe and sustainable management of this waste as the UN and countries face the urgent task of securing and ensuring the quality of PPE supplies.

Today, 30% of healthcare facilities (60% in the least developed countries) are not equipped to deal with existing waste levels, not to mention additional waste.

The WHO stated that this could expose healthcare professionals to needle injury, burns, and pathogenic microorganisms.

Poorly managed landfills and communities living near landfills can be affected by burning waste, poor water quality, or polluted air from disease-carrying pests.

According to Aljazeera, the World Health Organization emergencies director, Michael Ryan stated that, “It is vital to provide health workers with the right PPE. But it is also vital to ensure that it can be used safely without impacting on the surrounding environment.”

Dr. Maria Neira, the World Health Organization’s Director for Environment, Climate Change, and Health also stated that the COVID-19 has forced the world to reckon with the gaps and neglected aspects of the waste stream, and how they produce, use and discard of our health care resources, from cradle to grave.

Read more: As world goes under plastic waste, UN to hammer out global treaty

More Eco-friendly, less waste

The report of the United Nations outlined several recommendations, including sustainable packaging and shipping, as well as the purchase of safe and reusable PPE made from recycled or biodegradable materials, investment in non-combustible waste treatment technologies, and investing in recycling to give materials like plastic a second life.

“For example, safe and rational use of PPE will not only reduce environmental harm from waste, but it will also save money, reduce potential supply shortages and further support infection prevention by changing behaviors,” as noted by the chair of the Health Care Waste Working Group, Dr. Anne Woolridge.

Related Article: New business to manage UK’s radioactive nuclear waste

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