COVID-19 produces tons of waste: WHO

The COVID-19 pandemic generated more than 87,000 tonnes of medical waste. According to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO), this is putting a strain on waste management systems globally and endangering human and environmental health. )

“In the face of the COVID-19 epidemic, sustainable healthcare waste management is more important than ever to protect communities, healthcare workers and the planet, and to prevent pollution,” said Ruth Stringer, of the non-profit organization Health Care Without Harm. .

Approximately 87,000 tons of personal protective equipment (PPE) were distributed worldwide under a joint UN program between March 2020 and November 2021, according to a WHO report released on Tuesday. That’s 1.5 billion pieces of personal protective equipment and weighs in at 261 Boeing 747s. much of it became rubbish.

“It is absolutely vital that we provide healthcare workers with the right PPE,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergency Program, in a press release. “But it’s also vital that it can be used safely without affecting the environment.”

The WHO estimates that more than 140 million test kits will be capable of generating 2,600 tonnes, mostly plastic waste, and 731,000 liters of chemical waste, enough to fill a third of an Olympic-sized pool.

With nearly 8 billion doses delivered in early December 2021, the WHO has stated that global vaccination efforts are likely to generate at least 143 tons of waste, including 87 tons of bottles, 48 ​​tons of syringes and needles, and 8 tons of boxes.

WHO estimates are based on data from the UN supply portal COVID-19, which provides PPE and other health equipment to countries in need.

According to the WHO, this is “only a small fraction of global procurement” and “does not take into account the significantly higher volume of COVID-19 goods procured outside the UN system, nor the COVID-19-related waste generated by the population. . , including the use of medical masks. “

This means that our streets and streams are full of masks and gloves, and the real amount of pandemic-related waste is likely to be much higher than the WHO’s conservative estimates.

According to the WHO, waste management systems need to adapt and improve to cope with this influx of waste, especially when it is believed that not every third health care facility worldwide is equipped to safely handle potentially hazardous health care waste.

“Poor waste management can affect healthcare workers through needlestick injuries, burns and exposure to pathogenic microorganisms,” the report said. “Communities that live near poorly managed landfills and landfills can also be affected by polluted air, poor water quality, or disease-carrying pests.”

The report also includes recommendations for tackling epidemic-related waste, such as clear guidance for healthcare workers on disposing of used personal protective equipment and other equipment, using environmentally friendly packaging, switching to reusable masks and gloves, and investing in alternatives. waste incinerators and support for the recycling sector.

“COVID-19 has forced the world to reckon with the shortcomings and neglected aspects of the waste stream and how we produce, use and dispose of our health resources from cradle to grave,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director. environment, climate change and health. “Significant change in the management of healthcare waste streams at all levels, from the global to the hospital level, is a fundamental requirement for climate-smart healthcare systems.”

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