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Waste management during COVID-19 Pandemic

Er. Pradeep Amatya
Environmental Engineer, LMC 

With the increase in urbanization in Nepal, proper management of solid waste has become a major challenge in the country, especially in the most populated areas of Nepal, such as municipalities in Kathmandu Valley. Generally, people in the valley tend to dispose of mixed waste haphazardly because of their stereotype perceptions that management of waste is primarily the duty of the local government body. Rampant disposal of mixed waste by the households is making it difficult to promote onsite segregation and even more complicated for composting and waste recovery.

As we all know The COVID-19 pandemic had tremendous impacts on the waste management sector. The formal and informal waste workers have to work in the frontline as health workers, doctors, police and staff suppliers. At the initial phase the COVID pandemic was increasing and lock down imposed by Nepal Government waste workers had to rapidly adapt their waste management system and procedures to the present situation. As the lockdown or other restrictive measures are progressively lifted, a second phase is starting and new challenges are appearing. Public authorities and municipal waste workers do not have to act to face an urgent situation but they now have to deal with the impacts of the different measure and with the necessity to re-assess the situation. The crisis is also moving along the value chain reaching new actors such as recyclers.

The method being practiced while throwing the garbage is to throw mixed waste in packs covered with plastic bags.  When the municipal vehicle arrives near the community route, a siren is played to signal the inhabitants to throw the garbage. People throw the waste in the open type collection vehicles.  The waste is being collected almost free of cost for the city dwellers.  The following points depict the present scenario.

1)   Waste Management process- (Collection-transportation) no special waste processing (3R) is done.  (No recycle centers and only very limited composting facilities and processing facilities.)
2)  Plastic bags are being widely used. This ultimately produces a great deal of waste.
3)  Very little sorting of waste at the source has been practiced.
4)  Healthcare waste (Mask, gloves, face shield and PPE)

Household infectious Medical Waste Management

Households containing a Person Under Investigation (PUI) or Person Under Monitoring (PUM) should be encouraged to segregate all medical waste (face masks, wipes, tissues). Wherever possible the monitoring agency responsible for PUI/PUM management should provide yellow medical bags and collection services for PUI/PUM related waste. All PUI/PUM related waste should be double bagged, “swan neck” tied and the outside sprayed with a 0.5% chlorine disinfectant solution (1% household bleach solution). If dedicated medical waste collection is available, then the double-bagged waste should be disposed of immediately.

Infectious Medical Waste in Hospitals, Medical Centers, and Emergency Medical Facilities

All medical waste should continue to be handled aligning with our existing national legislation. However, the transport and disposal elements of the system will be the first to be overwhelmed.

Transport: Additional vehicles should have a non-absorbent, sealed load area capable of being locked, disinfected, and separate from the driver’s cabin. Their vehicle identification numbers (VIN) or chassis numbers should be recorded to allow future control.

Disposal: Infectious medical waste is typically segregated by hospital staff at the time of packing. The double bagged items are sprayed with 0.5% chlorine solution before onsite temporary storage. The method of disposal then varies between hospitals:

  1. Sterilization through steam (autoclave) or irradiation prior to disposal in a permitted disposable site.
  2. Autoclave units may be used to support the existing infectious medical waste infrastructure
  3. As a temporary measure, secure facilities can be used as temporary storage in anticipation of additional emergency resources becoming available in the medium term.

Concerning occupational safety health of waste workers:

Safe transport requires vehicles that can be sterilized, trained drivers and waste collectors, dedicated routes, and vehicle and waste tracking systems. Training must be conducted for crews who will be exposed to household infectious medical waste. But the municipal waste workers are trained only for safety measures. COVID 19 is the new issue for them. Municipality with donor agencies like WaterAID Nepal, Creasion Nepal and CEPHED have provided safety equipment PPE, mask, gloves, face shield etc.

Waste workers are utilizing the given safety equipment but during handling and after the daily work the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), hand washing of hand and forearms such as gloves for load with sharp or rough edges, eye protection, steel toed safety shoes. They are to be managed in proper and separately placed. They have to wash the clothes or PPE should be autoclaved and there must be a bathing place in the working area.

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