Considering the widespread transmission of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) globally, India is also facing the same crisis. As India already has inadequate waste treatment facilities, and this outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has led to significant growth of Bio-Medical Waste (BMW). Safe disposal of a large quantity of waste has become a more serious concern. This study provides a comprehensive assessment of BMW of India before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bio-Medical Waste (BMW) management in India is governed by BMW management rules of 2016 and it’s monitored by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). In normal situations before covid-19, India’s regular bio-medical waste generation was about 610 TPD per day (approximately). However, there are gaps in the implementation of BMW rules in India. This study uses various government and non-government organisation’s reports and data specifically from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
BMW due to Covid-19 and Its Disposal
Any waste generated during the diagnosis, treatment, immunisation, research pertaining thereto, production or testing of biologicals is called bio-medical waste. Given COVID-19, bio-medical waste can be personal protective equipment (PPE) including goggles, face shields; masks; gloves; laboratory waste. As per the Guidelines for Quarantine Facility COVID-19 issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, bio-medical waste is to be bifurcated in four streams:-
- Eye protection goggles, plastic vials, recyclable materials like pens, plastic water bottles and bedsheets are to be kept in red bins. The collected waste is to be disinfected through autoclave or microwave or hydroclave and sent for recycling.
2. Sharp waste including metals is to be discarded in white bins. For the treatment, sterilisation is to be followed by shredding or container mutilation or encapsulation.
3. Glassware, tube light, CFL bulbs, LED used in quarantine facility are to be kept separately in a cardboard box marked blue. The waste is to be disinfected and sent for recycling.
4. Used personal protective equipment (PPE), mask, gloves, shoe covers, head covers, disposable bed sheets, and PPE with the spill is to be discarded in a yellow bin and incinerated or buried in a deep pit.
Implementation of BMW management rules
The finding of the study demonstrated that most of the States/Union Territories (UTs) of India are lacking in terms of COVID-19 waste management. Many gaps were identified with compliance with BMW management rules. For example, out of all 35 States/UTs, health care facilitates (HCFs), only eight states received authorisation as per BMW management rules. Moreover, the government strictly restricted the practice of deep burials; however, 23 States/UTs are still using the deep burial methods for BMW disposal.
To monitor manifest COVID-19 related biomedical waste and to compile the data through an electronic system, CPCB developed COVID-19 waste tracking software named “COVID19BWM” designed for waste generators, Common Biomedical Waste Treatment and Disposal Facility (CBWTF) Operators, State Pollution Control Boards / Pollution Control Committees and Urban Local Bodies. 28 states initiated the use of Tracking App. Karnataka & Maharashtra SPCB has already developed their initiated use of Tracking App. Further, about 198 CBWTFs are providing the services of collection, transportation and disposal of COVID-19 biomedical waste from hospitals, isolation wards, quarantine centres, etc.
As per CPCB the country’s common biomedical waste treatment, disposal facilities and several such captive facilities in hospitals together can treat 826 tonnes of biomedical waste a day. However, States/UTs which generated on an average of 100 MT/month COVID-19 waste from June – December 2020 needs to be focused for special attention to implementing BMW rules and should upgrade their BMW treatment capacity.
The volume of BMW during Covid-19
As per the information received from SPCBs/PCCs, about 101 MT per day of COVID-19 related biomedical waste is generated in the country, this quantity is in addition to the normal biomedical waste generation of about 609 MT per day. India has generated over 32,996 MT of COVID-19 waste between June and December 2020. The month-wise details are shown in the fig below.
Second wave and BMW
The quantity of biomedical waste generated during the second wave at its peak was more than what was seen in the first wave. The second wave saw more admissions resulting in the use of more face shields, masks, PPE kits, disposable bed sheets, syringes, etc. However, the collection was reportedly smooth…When compared to pre-COVID times, the amount is four to five times more in the second wave. Apart from the humanitarian crisis, the aftermath of the second wave of the pandemic has been the huge pile-up of biomedical waste generated.
A careful analysis of CPCB’s January and May 2021 reports suggests that 22 of the 35 states and Union Territories generate more biomedical waste than they can handle. The capacity of facilities to treat biomedical waste is nearly saturated in Maharashtra, Goa, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Meghalaya, Rajasthan and others.
In May 2021, when India recorded the maximum number of new cases, COVID-19 accounted for 33 per cent of the biomedical waste generated across the country. The volume that month was massive at places.
Experts and doctors say it is a ticking time bomb as far as waste management is concerned. The cost of disposal too has gone up, from the earlier ₹10–13 to ₹58 per kilo now, excluding GST. As the country braced against the second wave, in May 2021, generated. 203 tonnes per day compared to 139 tons per day on Apr 21, an increase of 46 per cent. All these are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a clear indication that the 45,954 tonnes of COVID-19 waste collected by CPCB is a gross underestimation of the actual volume of waste generated so far.
Points to Ponder
In 2020 September, the country generated 183 tonnes of COVID-19 waste in a day, the highest at the time. This year, the peak was in May with 203 tonnes a day, according to the CPCB. While this increase of 11 per cent suits the narrative of the pandemic’s second wave being more infectious than the first wave, it has not kept pace with the COVID-19 caseload that rose by an astounding 234 per cent during the period.
Only a small amount of the litter, particularly pathological and laboratory wastes, that comes packed in yellow bags, is sent for incineration. While healthcare facilities follow the protocol during disposal of COVID-19 waste, no such segregation system is in place for home quarantine centres. Due to poor awareness and lack of communication, these facilities throw everything from food waste and disposable cutlery to masks, PPE kits and gloves into yellow bags, which are then sent for incineration.
Vaccination is adding up to BMW by way of used syringes, needles and discarded glass vials etc. By the end of the vaccination drive, which the Centre hopes to reach by the end of this year, the country would have generated over 1.3 billion used syringes, needles and more than 100 million discarded glass vials, that would require careful disposal as per the COVID-19 vaccines operational guidelines.
Steps to better manage COVID-19 BMW
- Intensify awareness among citizens and enforce segregation at the source
- Ensure all waste generators and processors are registered on COVID-19 BMWapp.
- Limit the use of PPE kits and other single-use paraphernalia only to frontline workers. Promote the use of reusable/cloth masks among the general public
- Use washable utensils in quarantine camps/ homes to minimise waste
- Plug the gaps in the guidelines by regularly updating them
- The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) should provide data that are segregated according to generation sources, waste types and treatment facilities. Doing this will help strategise for any outbreaks or pandemic waves
- CPCB should also reflect on the rural scenario in terms of quantum of generation and the general practices followed to dispose of the COVID-19 biomedical waste
- Ensure that vaccination camps outside hospitals segregate the waste properly
- As per Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016, bar-code the bags used for collecting biomedical waste for tracking the source of the waste once it reaches the treatment facility. Kerala is one of the few states that has been bar-coding its waste bags and this has been a major part of its responsibility towards the pandemic.
With the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) prolonging its stay and spread, the face of litter is fast changing in the country. Under-reporting, poor segregation and lack of awareness ail India’s COVID-19 waste management. The pressure is set to further increase with the nationwide vaccination drive.
*Won best paper award at NIT Jalandhar’s conference on Sustainable Environment: Challenges and Opportunities.