COVID-19: What about waste management related to the pandemic?
Since the beginning of quarantine, wearing masks and gloves has become a common phenomenon in all countries of the world. Actually, the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is crucial for individuals as for health workers. These PPE include gloves, masks, aprons, single-use gowns, respirators and face protectors in the form of glasses. The question is how to effectively treat this infectious waste and what are the most effective solutions.
Since the start of the health crisis, environmental associations have alerted the reintegration of single-use plastic. Rubber, latex, plastic, fiber and foam protections have appeared in everyday life. Consequently, the amount of infectious waste generated by households and hospitals has grown exponentially.
At the beginning of the pandemic, discussions about articulating different methods of waste management caused a big controversy within the European association of waste managers. In fact, before the pandemic, Europe set up an action program whose aim is to moderate the use of incineration for non-recyclable materials. However, the health crisis has forced priority to be given to burning waste. Incineration is a classic approach during epidemics, for instance Ebola in Africa, which is approved by WHO in the first phase of interventions in case of a health crisis or emergency.
No one can deny that high temperatures destroy viruses, which means that the most effective way to dispose of infectious waste is to burn it. Moreover, waste labeled as infectious is sent to incineration plants
In addition to destroying viruses, incineration reduces the amount of waste. Thus, the heat from incinerators can also be used as an energy source, either to heat local buildings or to generate electricity.
However, the use of incineration to manage waste is controversial. In the past, incineration has had a bad reputation for releasing unwanted gases during the combustion process. But in modern waste treatment plants, greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and toxic gases, which can harm human health, are eliminated through the use of gas cleaning technologies.
Once the pandemic is over, it will be time to think about the adequacy of the current systems and determine if alternatives can be explored. On the other hand, replacing single-use PPE with reusable PPE cleaned between uses would reduce the amount of waste. However, the use of chemical cleaning can have other environmental impacts.