Unempirical Disposal of CORONA Focused Gears- a Potential Threat

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Sarder Ali Haider

At present, CORONA virus initiated disease COVID-19 has compelled to change the overall life style of the people. Although there were mask culture in some of the countries like Japan and China during normal environment, the similar practice was never seen in the South Asian countries. Masks, surgical gloves and other gears are considered to be the essential protection against COVID-19. The demands of these gears are overwhelming and increasingly so as the infection makes its way around the world. The huge amount of clinical waste being produced dramatically heightens the risk. Single-use masks are made of plastic and a thin strip of metal and are often not being disposed of properly. Masks and other protective gears used by infected patients and the medical staffs treating them should be sterilized and incinerated at high temperatures in dedicated facilities. Unfortunately, many a times, these gears are being strewn on footpaths and roads. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, mask use has gone up drastically. At the same time, a systematic disposal process should get priority.

Photo-1: Used face mask has been left in the street

Environmental groups have found thousands of them littering beaches and hiking trails in Hong Kong, where they pose a threat to marine, animal and bird life[1]. That some masks could have been used by infected people adds an especially worrying threat. The infection can live for hours or even days in moisture and could be transferred should a person touch it and then their face. The organizations confronting the CORONA virus need to be alert and prepared as much for the virus as the medical waste.

Photo-2: Thousands used face masks littering beaches in Hong Kong

The most commonly used single-use masks are made of plastic and a thin strip of metal. They pose grave threat to the following categories of sectors:

  • Sanitation workers
  • General public
  • Environment
  • Marine, animal and bird life

The infection can live for hours or even days in moisture and could be transferred should a person touch it and then their face[2]. The huge amounts of clinical waste being produced dramatically heighten the risk. There are dangers that the coronavirus will be spread to garbage collectors and others if waste that may carry the infection is not handled properly.

There is no mechanism for collection and disposal of masks and medical waste generated by people who are under ‘home quarantine’ across Bangladesh for having a travel history or showing COVID-19 symptoms. While some home-quarantined individuals are burning the masks, others have no option but to dump them in the garbage. Single-use Masks are being dumped by users with their household garbage and being picked up by waste pickers unknowingly.

Photo-3: Waste disposing point in Bangladesh

CORONA focused gears might be handled as biomedical waste. The biomedical waste is defined as any waste, which is generated during the diagnosis, treatment or immunization of human beings or animals, or in research activities pertaining thereto, or in the production or testing of biological.

Categories of Biomedical Waste

According to World Health Organization (WHO) medical wastes have been categorized as follows:

  • Infectious: Materials containing pathogen in sufficient quantities, that if exposed can cause diseases
  • Sharps: Disposable needles, syringes, saw, blades, broken glasses, nails or any other item that could cause a cut
  • Pharmaceuticals: Drugs and chemicals that return from wards, spilled, out-dated, contaminated or are no longer required
  • Radioactive: Solids, liquids and gaseous wastes contaminated with radioactive substances used in diagnosis and treatment of diseases (e.g. toxic goiter)
  • Others: Wastes from office, kitchen, room including bed linen, utensils, paper etc.

Ideal methods of disposing CORONA focused gears

Masks and other protective gear used by infected patients and the medical staff treating them should be sterilized and incinerated at high temperatures in dedicated facilities[3]. The ideal methods of disposing CORONA focused gears are as follows:

  • General principles of hygiene and sanitation. Observance of general principles of hygiene and sanitation such as cleanliness, good housekeeping, adequate supply of safe water, sanitary facilities and proper ventilation are essential components of a good bio-medical waste management plan.
  • Waste minimization. It is essential that every waste generated from the hospital should be identified and quantified. Hospitals should endeavor to reduce waste by controlling inventory, wastage of consumable items and breakages etc. Waste can also be minimized by recycling certain waste such as glassware, plastic material etc after proper cleaning and disinfection.
  • Waste segregation. Segregation of waste at source and safe storage is the key to whole hospital waste management process. Segregation of various types of wastes into different categories according to their treatment/disposal options should be done at the point of generation in colour coded plastic bags/containers. The needles and syringes should be disinfected and mutilated before segregation.

Category and colour code of waste disposal system[4]

  • Waste treatment on site. Microbiological and biotechnology waste being highly infectious should be treated on site by autoclaving/microwaving/chemical treatment.
  • Waste transportation. The waste should be transported in the covered containers.
  • Waste treatment off site. There are various final treatment options available. Incinerator, Microwave, Autoclave, Hydroclave, Plasma torch technology.

The various disposal options of biomedical wastes are as follows:

  • Chemical treatment – sharps, solid, liquid and chemical wastes.
  • Autoclaving/Microwaving – microbiology/biotechnology, sharps, soiled and solid wastes.
  • Incineration – human, animal, microbiology/biotechnology and solid waste.
  • Deep burial in secured landfills – discarded medicines, incineration ash and chemical solid waste such as mercury.
  • Drainage – liquid waste, chemical liquid waste, cytotoxic waste in addition to being toxic are mutagenic hence should never be diluted and discharged into the sewers

On ground Challenges

The families in quarantine are not aware of what to do with used masks. However, burning or burying is often impractical due to pressure from neighbors and other residents of the housing society. The following steps might be followed while disposing the face masks.

While using a mask, normally people think they’re protecting themselves but it’s not just about protecting them only, we need to protect everybody by not throwing away the mask properly. Ministry of Health and Welfare of Taiwan declared fine up to NT$6,000 against the People who throw away their masks in public[5]. It’s not about only the creating and implementation of law, people should be conscious for the safety of whole community.



[1] Soiled masks pile up on HK beaches, hiking trails, https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/4/142916/Soiled-masks-pile-up-on-HK-beaches,-hiking-trails , accessed on April 1, 2020.
[2] We know how long coronavirus survives on surfaces. Here’s what it means for handling money, food and more, https://theconversation.com/we-know-how-long-coronavirus-survives-on-surfaces-heres-what-it-means-for-handling-money-food-and-more-134671 ,accessed on April 1, 2020.
[3] The disposal of face masks and medical waste is a crisis in the making, https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3074162/disposal-face-masks-and-medical-waste-crisis-making, accessed on April 1, 2020.
[4] Safe management of wastes from health‑care activities, https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/259491/WHO-FWC-WSH-17.05-eng.pdf;jsessionid=6ADFCA835DAB4762A3A17AC1ABB1525E?sequence=1, accessed on April 1, 2020.
[5] Face mask litterers can be fined up to NT$6,000: Health Ministry, https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3906603, accessed on April 1, 2020.
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