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The other pandemic: sanitary waste

The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered another pandemic, but of sanitary waste. Because of this, the WHO has produced a report in which it refers to this problem.

Both the healthcare and household sectors use a large number of single-use medical devices. Therefore, this causes a serious contamination problem.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of disposable materials has increased. In addition, both areas use these materials, because the general population now also uses them.

Main single-use sanitary waste in the hospital area

The hospital area uses a large amount of these materials.

  • Mask
  • PPE
  • Gowns
  • Protective screens
  • Gloves
  • Respirators
  • Syringes
  • Test kits

Many of these materials contain plastic waste, which is sometimes difficult to recycle.

Main single-use sanitary waste in the domestic area

It is not only in the hospital sector that the use of these wastes has increased, but also in the domestic sector. Some of them are:

  • Masks
  • Hydroalcoholic gels
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Disposable bottles
  • Disposable home delivery materials
How does home-delivered food pollute?
Although it may seem strange that home-delivered food can pollute, there is a clear link between these two aspects.
This is becasuse when someone orders home delivery, companies use a lot of single-use plastic such as plastic containers, plastic cutlery, and even more plastic to wrap the food.
This plastic has a extremely short shelf life. As single-use plastics, they cannot enter the circular economy. Therefore, these plastics end up accumulating in landfills and polluting the environment.

Masks contamination

Due to the effects of this pandemic, some governments have imposed the widespread use of face masks. The population consumes large numbers of face masks every day. This therefore has a strong environmental impact.

The masks are made of plastic microfibres made of polypropylene and polyethylene. This material takes around 400 years to degrade, releasing toxics from micro-particles into the sea and rivers. Fishes swallow the micro-particles, and reach humans through food.

Health waste generated by pandemic poses new threat to Africa

The African continent suffers from a structural waste management problem. Therefore, this problem is exacerbated by Covid’s new waste.

This has several consequences. Firstly, because there is no good waste management, citizens throw their masks in the street. Consequently, this accelerates the spread of the virus. When they are on the street, people pick them up and sell them again.

The second problem is the storage of sanitary waste. In most cases, hospital waste is incinerated, emitting greenhouse gases (GHG). In addition, the poor management of landfill sites on this continent is the cause of some diseases.

It is vital to improve the situation of landfills on this continent. This improvement will reduce the emission of toxics into the environment, and therefore reduce the negative effects. Also, by improving the waste management system, single-use medical waste will be disposed of in the appropriate container, and the rapid spread of the pandemic will be slowed to some extent.

REVALUO and landfill mining for hospital waste management

REVALUO is the LandfillSolutions process for the recovery of new waste and landfill waste. Landfill mining takes care of the latter process. If this process is not implemented, the waste will remain in landfills, and in most cases will end up incinerated producing large emissions.

Waste accumulated in landfills has important consequences for the environment. Water pollution produces leachates that contaminate the water table. Not only does it pollute the water, but it also pollutes the air through the toxins it releases, often generating a cloud of toxic smoke. In addition, incineration contaminates the surrounding crops, leading to the development of serious illnesses.

The technology used in the hospital waste recovery process is Meriolysis. This plant transforms the remaining fraction into pellets with the appropriate calorific value and humidity. Moreover, this process does not burn the waste, but heats it. The process controls and cleans the gases, and therefore emissions are minimal.

At current times, it is difficult to reduce single-use sanitary waste by a large percentage. However, technologies must be put in place to improve the management of this waste so as not to worsen the quality of the environment.

Recommendations for reducing sanitary waste

  • Use of reusable PPE
  • Use of reusable face masks
  • Dispose of this waste in the appropriate container
  • Home deliveries that use environmentally friendly containers and meet the plastic reduction objective.
  • Investing in efficient waste management systems.

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