How Covid-19 medical waste threatens our well-being

While we have focused on the social and economic impact of Covid-19, we may have inadvertently overlooked its impact on the environment.

This pandemic is generating tons of waste, especially plastic waste and with the lifting of the lockdown, the use of protective equipment like face masks, gloves and hand sanitizers has increased exponentially.

However, although we are aware of the use of this equipment, we unfortunately remain in the dark about how to dispose of it properly and what it would otherwise entail.

In fact, around 3.4 billion face masks were discarded daily at the start of the pandemic in 2020. As a result, the natural environment is severely damaged.

For example, in a recent initiative by French non-profit organization Opération Mer Propre, divers found face masks and bottles of hand sanitizer dumped on the bed of the Mediterranean.

Although this discovery may be laughable because it is insignificant, it speaks volumes about the dangerous inefficiency of the waste management system.

Bangladesh alone generated around 13 billion discarded masks in March and November. That’s a dismal number – and given that we haven’t factored in other plastic medical waste, that number is downright horrifying.

Despite the fact that a single face mask can release around 1,73,000 plastic microfibers into the sea, we do almost nothing about it.

Generally, these microfibers that are released into the sea are ingested by small aquatic organisms. Over time, this causes their digestive tracts to become blocked, causing them to stop eating and die.

Additionally, these face masks and PPE can also release harmful toxins into the seas, which can accumulate inside fish as they feed. As a result, fish and other marine life can suffer from liver toxicity and other conditions.

Undoubtedly, all of this will decrease the biodiversity of the oceans – leading to a new crisis.

In addition to this, the researchers also claim that the harmful dyes and heavy metals that are released from the discarded mask will eventually find their way into freshwater bodies. As a result, our water supply systems could be heavily polluted in the future.

Littered face masks not only entangle animals and birds, but they will also harm much-needed plant life. Once again, such an intrusion can jeopardize the integrity of our ecosystem.

Additionally, almost all protective gear like face masks and PPE are made of polypropylene. Therefore, its production has undoubtedly led to an increase in the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Indeed, around 32.7g of carbon dioxide is released per face mask during its production cycle – a product we so carelessly use and dispose of.

Yes, in our race to manage the pandemic and save human lives, the importance of limiting our carbon footprint has taken a back seat. However, this does not mean that we will not face the harsh consequences that await us.

Apart from this, improper disposal of face masks and PPE can lead to a resurgence of the pandemic. Indeed, it is a concern, especially for Bangladesh where waste management has always been an issue.

In fact, it should be noted that according to a recent study, approximately 93.4% of Covid-19 medical waste is not disposed of properly. Most Covid-19 medical waste would be transported using open drums and trucks.

Moreover, these wastes are usually handled by inexperienced and poorly trained people – a situation that can prove detrimental for the people who deal with them and for the rest of the country.

Therefore, it is imperative that the country takes steps to ensure that Covid waste is handled in a way that reduces risk, not only to us, but also to the environment.

Obviously, the national waste management system needs to be improved from within the core in order to achieve a good result. In fact, considering that recent initiatives have been taken to make the waste management system more efficient, we can hope for the best.

For example, the establishment of three medical waste management services in the Cox’s Bazar area by the International Committee of the Red Cross, can prove very beneficial for us.

Nevertheless, unless general people like us change our daily habit of going without face masks and plastic bottles of sanitizer wherever we want, this situation will not improve.

In fact, there’s a lot we can do to make sure our environment isn’t impacted by our use of masks and that includes: throwing masks straight into a bin, cutting the straps off discarded masks so animals don’t get entangled in them and use eco-friendly masks or reusable cloth masks.

Overall, Covid-19 has been and will continue to be a problem for some time, however, we must ensure that in our efforts to protect ourselves, we do not put other lives at risk. . We must also realize that short-term security will be useless if we do not minimize future risks.

Therefore, it is essential for us to properly dispose of Covid-19 waste, whether used masks, PPE or medical waste, to ensure we do not create an existential crisis for us. themselves and the natural world.


Tasnim Gulzar is an undergraduate student at the London College of Legal Studies (South).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.

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