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The environmental aftermath of COVID-19

The time period of the pandemic could be considered a dark era for the environment. On the one hand, the planet had a chance at relief when everyone was staying at home, while on the other hand, there was no choice but to use medical one-use products on a daily basis, including face masks, gloves and self-tests creating an unfathomable amount of waste, mainly of plastic.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic response has resulted in tens of thousands of tonnes of additional medical waste, which has severely strained healthcare waste management systems globally and endangered both human and environmental health, according to a new WHO report. We should keep in mind that apart from the personal use of medical products the main quantity of refuse is created by the healthcare system, making the urge for waste management an emergent crisis. According to this assessment, the issue is widespread but particularly severe in developing nations where a large amount of trash is simply burned in open pits and outdated incinerators with no pollution controls. Prior to COVID, medical waste was a significant issue. Before the epidemic spanned the globe, many healthcare facilities lacked the capacity to manage waste responsibly, and the pandemic's massive scale has only made an already bad situation much worse. To picture the problem more than 87,000 tonnes of personal protective equipment have been shipped by the UN as emergency support which indicates a preliminary sign of the COVID-19 waste problem size, that they have already ended up in the landfill.

The study outlines a number of suggestions for incorporating better waste management procedures into the COVID-19 response that are also safer and more environmentally friendly. The use of environmentally friendly packaging and shipping, safe and reusable PPE (such as gloves and medical masks), recyclable or biodegradable materials, and investments in the recycling industry are all advised. These measures will ensure that materials, like plastics, can have a second life. But maybe now that the pandemic has almost come to an end, we came to the realisation that these measures have only been implemented on a small scale or even not at all. So the question is; What are we doing now? The problem still seems to loom large.

Now that there is an amount of waste settled, it is necessary to develop sound policies, build up the necessary infrastructure, and promote the prudent use of medical equipment in order to dispose of healthcare waste in a sustainable way.

The well-known 3R approach is one strategy to reduce medical waste that is not necessary. Utilise "just in time" inventory management to reduce packaging and shipping waste and expired product waste. Use reusable equipment like temperature probes and washable glass or ceramic mugs. To create biofuels or other chemicals with a marketable value, use organic components and recyclable resources where contamination is not a concern. The traditional waste treatment process is incineration requiring monitoring and treating flue gases to remove harmful and polluting materials. For that reason, there are advanced incinerator technologies available, including rotary kilns, fixed and fluidized bed incinerators, and incinerators that use biofuels instead of fossil fuels. However, developing nations frequently face limitations due to the greater expenses of upgrading incineration plants, whether to build, run, maintain, or oversee their operation, particularly in those with a large population and a large healthcare institution network.

Therefore, it's critical to minimise from now on the production of medical waste. This will support the global effort to cut back on toxic waste emissions into the atmosphere. In addition to the landfill, there are other alternatives to incineration, such as microwave treatment, biological treatment, enhanced steam sterilisation, dry heat sterilisation, alkaline hydrolysis, and so on. It seems like there is the technology for a more sustainable treatment of the COVID-19 waste problem, but the will and funding are still needed to reassure a smooth healthcare waste management.


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