Challenges, Opportunities, and Innovations for Effective Waste-Management during SARS-CoV—2 Pandemic | Adamas University

Covid-19, Waste Management

Challenges, Opportunities, and Innovations for Effective Waste-Management during SARS-CoV—2 Pandemic

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV—2 has created an unprecedented impact in most countries of the world. Coronavirus pandemic, since the first report in December 2019, has spread to nearly every corner of the globe. Till date, more than 18 million people are infected and ~ 700 thousand human toll. In this unprecedented circumstances, the principal scheme of government policies are focused mainly on the safety of lives and livelihoods of the people. The health care sectors are facing massive challenges to handle patients in need of urgent care with the existing infrastructure and limited availability of safety equipment to face this pandemic. Preventive methods like upgrading medical norms, aggressive testing campaigns, regulation of public policies are implemented so far to combat this public health catastrophe.

Certainly the world has witnessed the positive environmental implications of nationwide lockdowns inflicted by Covid—19 such as cleaner rivers and clearer skies due to significant reduction of industrial pollution. However, Covid—19 pandemic has disrupted the global waste generation dynamics, creating woes among policymakers and sanitary workforces. World health orgaization (WHO) recommended several types of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as medical gloves, facemasks, faceshields, and aprons for essential service workers (e.g., doctors, nurses, caregivers, etc.) and people inviolved in handling the coronavirus infected patients. Most of the countries have recommended its people to wear facemasks when going to public places. This has created colossal demand for personal safety equipments. Millions of PPEs are manufactured and used daily during the pandemic. Consequently, medical and hazardous waste including contaminnated masks, gloves, surfacewipes, and other protective equipment, along with a large amount of non-contaminated waste of the same nature are produced during an contagious outbreak. Improper collection practices could lead to contamination of general municipal solid waste with the virus, which could create a seriuos risk of transmission. Therefore, the safe management and eventual disposal of this waste is very critical for an efficient emergency measure. Appropriate identifcation, assortment, separation, storage, transportation, treatment, and disposal, as well as important associated aspects including proper sanitazation, training and protection of waste collecttion workforces, become part of effective supervision of biomedical and health-care waste. With each day passing by, the quantities of bimedical waste from health care facilities is increasing rapidly (e.g. 11 tons/day in Delhi, 9 tons/day in Mumbai). To add to the distresses, with looming uncertainty, and restrictions on movement, the pandemic in many countries has also lead to stockpiling of supplies, hoarding, and in some instances, panic buying. These more extreme retorts have been accompanied by more subtle consumption changes. Suppliers and end users are switching to single-use products for hygiene and convenience, using disposable wipes for disinfecting surfaces, carrying small hand sanitizer bottles, and certainly the facemasks, which may well continue to wash up on shores, during and long after the pandemic recedes.

Fig. 1.  The potential exposure and transmission risk of SARS-CoV-2 [Resources, Conservation & Recycling 162 (2020) 105043]

There are other possible routes where improper management of used PPEs can pose a serious threat by creating a chain of transmission of SARS-CoV—2. Therefore, government policies to treat waste management of medical, household, and other hazardous waste are of paramount importance and waste management is appropriately declared as essential public service to minimize possible cascading impacts on health and environment. Alarmingly, almost 95% components of the materials used for PPEs are plastic and are neither biodegradable nor recyclable. Amid this ongoing health catastrophes, they are creating an unexpected impact on the environment instigating “a silent, invisible health hazard for a large number of people”. Therefore, any lack of alacrity or failure to address the biomedical waste concerns can lead to serious irreversible consequences in terms of mortality and morbidity.

The facility of safe water, sanitation and hygienic conditions is essential for protecting human health during all infectious disease eruptions, including Covid-19. Ensuring evidenced-based and consistently applied WASH and waste management practices in communities, homes, schools, marketplaces, and healthcare facilities help prevent human-to-human spread of Covid-19. However, potential transmission of viruses through wastewater is raising concerns amidst the science fraternity. Recent studies demonstrate that the SARS-CoV—2 virus is shed in feces from infected patients with severe symptoms, asymptomatic status, and treated patients with no further sign of the symptoms also reported the presence of the SARS-CoV—2 viral RNA in the urine samples of infected patients. Similarly, only the SARS-CoV—2 RNA was reported in the hospital sewage and community wastewater. Although the ability of the SARS-CoV—2 to persist in the water medium, including wastewater remains uncertain, the detection of the SARS-CoV—2 RNA in both untreated and treated wastewater and the isolation of the infectious SARS-CoV—2 from stool samples raise a concern of the risk of the potential spread through this medium. The SARS-CoV—2 RNA could enter the water systems through numerous pathways (Fig. 2), consequently causing the risk of potential transmission of Covid—19 in the water environment. These paths include wastewater discharged from hospitals and isolation and quarantine centers. The excreta-related contaminations are found to transmit through the contamination of water systems. Many water sources can, therefore, be potentially contaminated. The surface water (streams and lake) where wastewater is often discharged directly without proper treatment can also be a potential carrier for the SARS-CoV—2 through the water channels into various parts of the communities, where they rely on these water sources for their daily needs in low-income countries.

Fig. 2. Sources and pathways of SARS-CoV-2 in water systems. [Science of the Total Environment 742 (2020) 140680]

The transmission of SARS-Covid—19 through the virus contaminated water so far there is not reported. Nevertheless, other waterborne diseases contracted through the consumption of contaminated water such as diarrhea and gastroenteritis are far-reaching particularly in low-income countries. The majority of the population in low-income countries largely rely on the surface and groundwater resources to meet their daily water consumption. This might be a potential risk of spiraling of Covid—19 in the community. Therefore, a serious consideration for waste water treatment from the Covid-19 health care facilities is the need of the hour to prevent any possible snowballing transmission of Covid—19 through wastewater.                      

The Covid-19 crisis has shown us the essential nature of the waste management service. The daunting task for safe disposal and treatment of Covid—19 related biomedical waste and waste water treatment is soaring by the day. The Covid—19 outbreak has spawned an immediate requirement for innovation for disinfection technology. A Delhi-based market research company predicts that the Indian surface disinfectant market is expected to register high growth during 2020-2026 owing to the increased demand for the disinfection services amid the pandemic. At a time of unprecedented global health crisis, several entrepreneurs have been focusing on providing disinfection services, which have become the need of the hour, as the country opens up after observing an extended lockdown. Pune-based PadCare Labs is one such business which is helping people fight the infectious virus through its UV disinfection technology. Recently, the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India has, in partnership with Invest India under the ‘Waste to Wealth Mission’ recently announced the Covid—19 Biomedical Waste Treatment Innovation Challenge.

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