Addressing Waste Management during COVID 19: Challenges and the Way Forward

Simi Mehta

Waste Management is one of the most important sanitary barriers to prevent dissemination of illnesses and diseases. During the Corona pandemic, the waste management becomes the challenge to the every member of the society. It intensifying impact upon the world’s healthcare systems and economy.

Therefore, there is a need of understanding the significance of waste management and ensuring the reliable and systematic waste management, in order to protect the health of citizens and restrict the spread of virus. Keeping this in mind, Centre for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi organized the panel discussion on Waste Management during COVID 19: Challenges and the Way Forward.

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Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director IMPRI, introduced the topic and welcomed the distinguished Panel. She said that waste management is the most significant component of preventing the propagation of disease and illness.

She stated the question that How does one ensure the scientific waste management of solid waste, biomedical waste and hazardous waste during the pandemic? She also stated that corona waste require the meticulous mechanism to deal with the waste and ensure the degree of efficiency and safety of the citizens during COVID times. There is need to document the changes introduced by the municipal in solid waste management and also monitoring the process through the periodic assessment.

Dr Keith Alverson, Director International Environmental Centre, United Nations Environment Programme, Japan, chaired the session for the discussion and addressing the problem of waste management during the COVID19. He raised the questions that to whom we address the challenge the waste management? Who takes the responsibility to control it?.

He stated the efforts of the various International Organisation, Government agencies and research Organisation working in the waste management. Dr Keith pointed out the challenges faced by the institution, hospitals and care centers. He emphasized upon the safety, security and hygiene of frontline warriors like workers and staff working the waste management. Moreover, he also stated the increased amount of waste such as plastic waste and other medical waste during the COVID19 generated the problem for the society.

By stating on the expression of ‘multiple disaster’ such as Flooding problem, earthquake and other natural calamities during pandemic he stated the problem of mobilizing the people from one place to another. He also stated the situation of Japan where the problem of Flooding affect the life of people and creates challenge to the government authority to ensure the safety and security of citizens.

Ms Swati Singh Sambyal, Waste Management Specialist UN Habitat Centre India, emphasized upon the “Existing challenges and best practice of COVID 19 waste management in India”.Ms Sambyal focuses on the solutions that how cities in India combating the challenge of Waste management during the COVID19 times.

She discussed the various Sources of the COVID19 waste which includes (i) Containment zones/Red zones, (ii) Quarantine facilities/COVID care centers, (iii) Isolation homes, (iv) Home Quarantine, (v) Health care facilities/hospitals/labs.  Ms Sambyal while mentioning the Dr Keith point that we weren’t prepare ourselves from decades in handling the waste management and stated that this is now more difficult for the authorities to come out with comprehensive plan to deal with waste in pandemic times.

However, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) released the Guidelines for handling the COID19 Bio medical waste (BMW) with constant update and admission. Further, she discussed the Segregation of BMW and stated the various categories such as Yellow, Red, White and Blue along with type of BMW and their treatment and discharge.

She also stated the data on Status of Biomedical waste management in India and asserted that before the COVID19 outbreak, a government or a private hospital would typically produce 500 grams of biomedical waste, (like syringes, urine bags, gauze, etc) per bed, daily. Now, that number has gone up to between 2.5kg to 4kg per bed, daily, according to the CBWTF in Delhi. This waste is not limited to the hospitals but the isolation homes or Quarantine center also contributes, which is major problem in managing and dealing with the waste.

She stated the multi fold challenges due to the waste which includes the availability of workers and staff for collection and disposal of CBWMTF, huge quantity of general mixed with infected COVID waste at the quarantine centers and isolation wards. She expressed the concern for the frontline warriors who managed these waste as they are more vulnerable to the Corona virus.

Moreover, she presented the case studies of effective interventions of waste management in India which shows the role of civil society groups, NGOs, government Organisation, etc., in managing and segregating the waste within the cities of different States. The case study covered the Panaji, Goa, Panchgani, Maharashtra, Ambikapur, Chattisgarh, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala and Vijaywada, Andhra Pradesh. At the end, she proposed the ideas for the waste management and stated the Decentralization of Urban cities, segregate, Strengthen biomedical waste, sound management of plastic and social engineering.

Prof Brajesh Kumar Dubey, Associate Professor, Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, commenced the discussion with the World Bank report titled “ What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050”. Prof Brajesh focused on the municipal solid waste management where the world generates 2.01 billion tons of municipal solid waste annually.

He stated the segregation waste generated such as metal, glass, plastic, paper/cardboard and Food green and stated the data of different countries generated the solid waste annually. While emphasizing on the segregation, Prof Brajesh made a reference of his article which was published in Economic Times on Jan 13, 2018 titled ‘For effective waste disposal, segregation is the key’.

He expressed the causes of increased generation of plastic waste in the COVID times and stated the reasons such as online delivery, panic buying, stockpiling and PPE disposal. He expressed the concern about the plastic waste especially the single used plastic like gloves, mask, and apron which is high in demand among the customers and there is not waste management of it.

Moreover, he stated the factors that discouraging plastic recycling sector which includes (a) Stump in oil prices, (b) Transport restrictions, (c) Staff Shortage due to Corona pandemic. Further in the discussion, Prof Brajesh asserted on the fact the because of COVID19 there is change of consumer preferences considering the hygiene factor used the single use plastic instead of reusable and this creates the high demand of single use plastic.

He also stated the proposed practices of waste (plastic) management to fight the future pandemic. It includes incineration, chemical recycling, and bio plastics. He concluded presentation with the comparative analysis of Solid waste management from normal scenario with the COVID19 and suggested that there is need of coordinated efforts from all the sections of the society to control and regulate the waste management.

Mr. Sameer Unhale, Additional Commissioner, Ulhasnagar Corporation opined that there is need to recognize the work of manual scavengers because they are not ‘sanitary slaves’. The stigma attached to the work of rag picking needs to be discarded in these crucial times where they are collecting the garbage from the affected homes as well exposing themselves to the risks. Thus, the testing of municipal labour should be prioritized.

Solid waste management workers from municipalities and from common grounds should be trained online to sensitize them about coronavirus and the ways in which they can protect themselves. He raised question how 1000 manual scavenger will clean the garbage by millions of people in the city? He calls for individual participation and community engagement for being a reasonable citizen is required to dispose the garbage.

Awareness materials in local languages by international agencies and private sector can be helpful in sensitizing the people on ground. The collaborative efforts from private sector, international agencies and government departments will bring the required change. He opined that irresponsible media has created panic among the people since it is the major source of information to the local people.

Dr Arjun Kumar, Director IMPRI, concluded the discussion by mentioning the significance of Waste management and acknowledged the concern of Waste during the COVID19. He stated that this pandemic brought up the focus on the waste management because it poses the security threat to the human beings. He expressed the principles of sustainability which includes sustainable production and consumption, circular economy, zero waste.

He also stated that make waste as non-negotiable priority and agenda after the post pandemic. He acknowledged the government programmes and schemes which make marvelous impact on hygiene, waste management and wellbeing of citizens such as Clean India Campaign. He also suggested the systematic waste management is the key and that leads to the cost saving of government, decentralization of technology and promotion of entrepreneurship.

Finally, he thanked the Chair, all panelist and participants for participating in the important discussion which has great significance in the contemporary times. He also assures that we will continue to hold such policy debates and discussions on these important issues also in the future.

YouTube Video for Waste Management during COVID-19

Acknowledgements: Varun Kumar is research intern at IMPRI and currently pursuing Masters from Ambedkar University, Delhi

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  • Ritika Gupta

    Ritika Gupta is a senior research assistant at Impact and Policy Research Institute. Her research Interests include Gender Studies, Public Policy and Development, Climate Change and Sustainable Development.

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