Global waste generated by humans is a detriment to our environment. Landfills and oceans are contaminated due to waste. Waste production creates water pollution, soil contamination, and air pollution. In 2017 the EPA calculated the total generation of Municipal Solid Waste in the US at 267.8 millions tons. Proper waste management is vital in protecting all species of life and the environment. The segregation, collection, transportation, treatment, and disposal of waste is an essential public health service. Waste operators rapidly adapt to fluctuations during floods, earthquakes, and pandemics. Covid-19 tremendously impacted the waste sector. Waste haulers and treatment plants in some areas are overburdened by the surge of Covid-19 waste. New waste facilities were constructed and mobile waste treatments centers were deployed all around the world to combat the increase in volume of medical waste.
Medical waste contaminated with infectious materials like Covid-19 is a big concern. During the pandemic healthcare workers and patients were going through personal protective equipment at an alarming rate. Disposable goggles, mask, gloves, gowns, face shields became a necessity in treating Covid-19 patients. The need for protective gear outgrew the supply chain causing shortages. As Covid-19 wards were created in hospitals all over the world so was a surge in infectious medical waste.
Researchers in Bangladesh estimate that the country provided 3000 tons of plastic waste during the first month of lockdown. 159 tons of medical waste reported from China, with 240 tons from Wuhan. Italy saw 3 times the amount of medical waste during the pandemic. In France one waste processing plant had to double its capacity and work 7 days a week 24 hours a day to cope with the influx of infectious waste. One study suggests that hospitals generated 6 times as much medical waste at the peak of the outbreak. As healthcare workers and patients burn through personal protection equipment in medical facilities, public consumption of masks and gloves surpassed medical consumption. Mandatory mask laws and movement of people out of quarantine means more waste. Practices including masks, gloves, antibacterial wipes, and disposable plastics keep business and institutions operating and lowers the risk of infection. These new practices create more waste putting sanitation workers at risk, and pressure on waste management facilities. Studies suggest that Covid-19 virus can live on cardboard for days posing a threat to the public and sanitation workers.
Not all medical waste comes from hospitals. Contaminated waste is generated by the general population, public spaces, and residences. Waste from people that are Covid-19 positive and quarantined and residing at home could be contaminated, posing new risks. Most government's have guidelines on waste management and collection for the public, private, and medical sector. New procedures are emerging as Covid-19 cases climb worldwide. Medical waste disposal and treatment has a tremendous impact on the health of our climate.