The protective gear used by vizagites who have not tested positive for Covid-19 but could be asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus are being disposed of with other items in the absence of a separate waste segregation policy, waste disposal specialists have said. The gear such as masks, gloves and face shields, which may contain viruses spewed up by asymptomatic carriers, have been piling up in some dustbins every day, posing a risk to public health.
Some garbage collectors said they had appealed to the residents to segregate the waste, but few of them still avoid waste segregation, adding to their woes. Ramana, a garbage collector said he collects garbage from around 100 houses in B S Layout. “Several persons use disposable gloves and masks. After using these items, they throw it in the dustbin without segregation. When we visit their homes to collect the waste, we often find the dry and wet waste as well as used masks and gloves in a single carry bag or dustbin. After that we have to segregate the waste,” he said.
Experts said the GVMC neither introduced exclusive policy for collecting bio-medical waste from door to door collection across the city nor any separate bin placed for collection of bio-waste across the city limits. Had the rules of Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM) 2016 been implemented in the city in toto, used gloves and masks would not have mixed with other waste and dumped at the same site together, the specialists said.
K V Rao, an octogenarian of Seethammadhara area said GVMC should place separate colour bins for people to throw their used masks, gloves and head covers in them. The civic body should ensure implementation of the guidelines and create awareness among people to dispose it in a right way.
Municipal solid waste cleaners and rag pickers, who rummage through the waste are at risk of contracting the virus and spreading it within their communities. “Public health specialists are saying that a large number of people infected by the coronavirus remain asymptomatic. This creates a new challenge for handling the waste generated by these people. Everyone should be treated as a potential carrier and the masks, gloves and other Covid gear used by them should be collected separately,” said Sourabh Manuja, a fellow with the Centre for Waste Management at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). Cities with a proper waste segregation policy were better placed than others to face the challenge. “The 2016 rules define domestic hazardous waste as used needles, syringes and contaminated gauges. No one thought about masks or gloves then. But by the same logic, masks and gloves, too, come under the domestic hazardous waste category,” he said.
According KSLG Sastry, Chief Medical Health Officer of GVMC, there should be separate policy for collection bio-medical waste ( masks and hand gloves) from door to door for the common people during these Covid-19 times.
“I would suggest that the GVMC should distribute separate colour bags to all households for people to keep used masks, gloves and other shields in them,” said Dr. K V Srinivas, a public health specialist. “The civic authorities should educate its waste collectors about how to collect such waste without exposing themselves to the risk of infection.” Some public health specialists pointed out that even if the GVMC places the yellow waste bins across the city, it was doubtful how many people would dump their used gear in them in the absence of a culture of segregating waste. Besides, some specialists said, the scheme could only be successful if there was a widespread campaign.