The Changing Face of Waste Management in the COVID Era

The Changing Face of Waste Management in the COVID Era

Waste production, especially plastic waste production is soaring high under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When we talk about the man-caused threats to the environment, poor waste management is one of the frontline threats. The hit of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the production of waste and so the challenges around waste management, especially medical waste and non-medical household waste have amplified.

The stay-at-home policies, the institution of lockdowns, and the need for preventative measures have increased the consumption and production of products such as gloves, masks, sanitizers, thermometers, toilet paper, cleaning products, and food items. Every household is producing more waste than ever before.

Mass use of disposable masks and gloves, panic buying, or home-delivery of food items wrapped in single-use plastic have impeded the efforts to decline plastic pollution. Similarly, even the plastic waste from medical institutions is soaring at an alarming rate. As per Andersen 2020, the World Health Organization has projected a monthly global expenditure of 76 million plastic-based examination masks, 1.6 million plastic-based protective goggles, and 89 million plastic-based medical masks.

In addition to this, medical institutions in their endeavor to fight the spread of the pandemic are producing non-hazardous waste, radioactive waste, pathological waste, infectious waste, cytotoxic waste, chemical waste, sharps waste, and pharmaceutical waste at a much-amplified rate. Likewise, several reports are highlighting the concern of increased waste production across the globe.

But what about waste treatment or management measures? Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world's waste management sector was not efficient and was already facing challenges. As per UN-Habitat 2020 over three billion people lack access to waste disposal and over two billion people lack access to waste collection. Thus, an accretion in medical and household waste production has further amplified the challenges of an already burdened sector.

Inadequate waste management arrangements are not just threats to the environment at large, but also can catalyst the spread of the Coronavirus through secondary transmission.

Endeavors to Overcome the Problem

To control the amplified amount of medical and household waste production caused by COVID-19, existing waste facilities are to be improvised both quantitively and qualitatively. However, these improvisations should be backed with adequate information around how much waste gets generated, which are the hotspots for waste generation, and what kind of waste treatment facilities are available at different hotspots.

Besides, to accommodate these waste management challenges, there should be urgent execution of profound technical know-how on sorting, segregation, transportation, and storage. Accordingly, sustainable waste management technologies need to be adapted to maximize the maintenance of the existing waste management infrastructures or processes and also for setting up new waste control facilities.

One key factor that must not be overlooked here is the efficiency of the workforce that is involved in the process of waste management. This workforce is currently overburdened with the workload, and they need to be handy with the right kind of tech-enabled tools such as maintenance management software to overcome their operational challenges so that they can be more productive and efficient in their job roles.

The Way Forward

After experiencing the waste management crisis in the COVID-19 era, the lesson to learn here is that waste management cannot continue as it was before the pandemic. There is an urgent global call to treat waste management as an essential public service. It requires structural adjustments, better infrastructure and facilities, advanced maintenance management software suites for managing operational challenges, and better tools to enhance the efficiency and safety of the waste service workers.

While putting these measures into action, it is important that the people at large must adopt a zero-waste approach and become more concerned about environmental safety like never before. For ensuring sustainable waste management, while it is important to execute proper waste management measures in line with the United Nations Environment Program guidelines, there even the public, in general, must understand how the pandemic has exposed the environment to several environmental threats, and accordingly bring a difference in how they are producing and disposing of their wastes.