Managing Solid Waste In Covid Time17 July 2020
Solid waste management is an egregious concern for Bangladesh. Rapid urbanization, huge population growth and unplanned waste management system are mainly responsible for increasing rates of solid waste generation in Bangladesh. Poor waste management imposes negative externalities to the people. Improper solid waste management creates an adverse impact broadly on health and environment.
With this contrast, the situation of waste management in Bangladesh is now very alarming due to Covid-19 pandemic, poses serious threats to human and nature. To avoid coronavirus, people are following the rules of health as per the guidelines of the World Health Organization and the government, so they are using different types of hygiene products. This used protective gears such as gloves, mask, face shields, bodysuits, eye protection glasses and hair caps have started littering drains, roads and over spaces. The spread of these hygiene products is increasing the likelihood of a virus spreading further.
According to Environment and Social Development Organization, Bangladesh generated 14,165 tons of single-use plastic wastes in March 26-April 25, roughly the first month of Covid-19 infection in Bangladesh. The study finds that more than 50 per cent of 163 million people have already started wearing single-use synthetic surgical masks and 30 per cent of them gloves. The maximum amount of waste was generated from used hand gloves - a total of 5,877 tons, of which 3,039 tons were from plastic gloves and the rest 2,838 from surgical gloves. Polythene shopping bags generated 5,796 tons of waste, 1,592 tons came from surgical masks and used hand sanitizer container contributed more 900 tons.
However, Plastic waste needs hundreds of years to decompose. Meanwhile, it creates obstacles to waterways and leach harmful chemicals into the soil and water, affecting terrestrial and aquatic life, ecosystems and human health. Improper disposal of waste is responsible for blocking urban drainage systems and this block drainage caused area wise water logging and flooding. Extreme events related to climate change, such as high intensity rainfall, can easily overwhelm drainage, resulting in water logging and flooding, which is further provoked when municipal solid waste is poorly managed. Therefore, removing or reducing plastic litter and managing solid waste should be the most upper priority for municipal authorities in the Bangladesh. During the epidemic, it is even more necessary that municipal authorities follow and implement standard guidelines and practices for the safe disposal of medical waste related with Covid-19.
Currently, billions of hygiene products are being produced worldwide. But where is the destination of these wastes after use? Undoubtedly, this is a new level of environmental risk. Scientific research based guidance is needed at the moment. These are not entirely bio-wastes, which can be converted by refining or recycling. So far government does not make any comprehensive plan to ensure safe disposal of Covid-19 waste. Entrepreneurs involved in the business of such masks and gloves can be encouraged to produce environmentally friendly products by the government. Other than that, we have specific laws aimed at collecting, storing, transporting and recycling or disposing of clinical waste. The Bangladesh Medical Waste Rules-2008 has clear guidelines in this regard. According to this rule-waste need be identified first, then classified into waste and finally in some process waste disposal i.e. destruction, incineration or burial. In case of Covid-19 waste most effective way to manage it properly can be the incineration. Used hygiene products are really dangerous; there is no substitute for burning them in the incinerator with expert opinion. However, the position of the incinerator must be far away from the locality. In Bangladesh, there is an incinerator in the waste dump of a waste management company called 'Prism'. There is a need for strict monitoring of whether the incinerator is being processed properly or not. In this situation, hospital authority and municipal authority need to be very careful about Covid-19 waste and their safe collections, transportations and dumping.
Moreover, public awareness needs to be ensured although, Dhaka North City Corporation is mentioned that they have planned the distribution of 10,000 leaflets but this may hardly work. From personal to household level, medical or Covid-19 waste should be kept in a separate place. Waste collection vans should have separate chamber to carry the medical waste. We can take the example of the England- the masks used in England are burned in the incinerator with a separate yellow marked bin. Like England we can also arrange a special colored waste dumping bin for Covid-19 waste and burned in the incinerator. Public awareness should be raised through mass media for cooperation from people. We can also increase involvement civil society, environmental awareness groups, NGOs to ensure public awareness related with Covid-19 waste.
In addition, more than 10,000 workers are engaged in waste collection in the Dhaka city and around 40,000 informal waste collector works across the country wearing no personal protective equipments. Hardly, they have used only masks and this explores another source of infection. It is important to ensure safety measures for employees who are directly involved in waste disposal, as well as special incentives for them at the risk of their lives.
This problem is basically our behavioral, but its impacts go to our environment as well as our health. If the ongoing Covid-19 epidemic adds to the waste epidemic, then our earth will definitely face a new risk. So we don't have time to waste, not only introduction of effective rules and its proper implications but also public awareness can be the ultimate solution to save our earth.
(Sadia Islam is Assistant Professor at Dhaka School of Economics).