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Health care waste disposed due to pandemic demands

Food and Beverages | Friday, February 18, 2022

Over 140 million test kits have been shipped, resulting in 2,600 tonnes of non-infectious waste, mainly plastic

FREMONT, CA: According to a new WHO report, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has put tonnes of extra medical waste on health care waste management systems around the world, posing a serious threat to human and environmental health and highlighting the urgent need to improve waste management practices.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Analysis of Health Care Waste in the Context of COVID-19: Status, Impacts, and Recommendations is based on the approximately 87,000 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE) that was procured and shipped to support countries' urgent COVID-19 response needs through a joint UN emergency initiative between March 2020 and November 2021. The majority of this equipment is expected to be discarded.

The authors point out that this is simply a rough estimate of the size of the COVID-19 waste problem. It excludes any COVID-19 commodities purchased outside of the project, as well as waste generated by the public, such as disposable medical masks. Over 140 million test kits have been shipped, resulting in 2,600 tonnes of non-infectious waste, mainly plastic and 731,000 liters of chemical waste - equivalent to one-third of an Olympic-size swimming pool, while over 8 billion doses of vaccine have been administered globally, resulting in 144,000 tonnes of additional waste in the form of syringes, needles, and safety boxes.

While the UN and governments focused on acquiring and ensuring the quality of PPE supplies, less attention and resources were given to the safe and long-term management of COVID-19-related health care waste. It is critical to supply health professionals with the appropriate personal protective equipment, stated Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Programme. However, it is equally critical to ensure that it can be used properly without causing harm to the environment.

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