As the number of Covid cases rises, so does the number of households going into home quarantine. The waste generated by such households has to be handled and processed carefully so as to curb the spread of the virus.
In July, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) issued separate guidelines for ‘Handling, Treatment & Disposal of bio-medical waste generated during Treatment/Diagnosis/Quarantine of COVID-19 patients’ which gives guidance on management of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste including that generated by households.
What qualifies as Covid waste?
Covid waste is recognised as Hazardous Biomedical Waste and governed by the Biomedical Waste Management Rules 2016. This is infective biomedical waste that must be segregated and stored separately in non-chlorinated yellow bags. It includes:
- Used facemasks, gloves, tissues, toiletries, swabs contaminated with the blood/ body fluids of Covid-19 patients
- Syringes, medicine bottles used by the patient
Other Covid waste:
- Masks and gloves used by the patient’s caregiver and other family members
- Leftover food, disposable plates, glasses, water bottles, Tetrapaks, toiletries, sanitiser bottles, kitchen waste, paper, plastic & packaging waste, floor cleaning dust generated by the quarantined household
Protocol for Covid waste management in housing societies
Housing societies should follow segregated waste disposal. One fixed place should be identified and used for dumping waste in separate bins by the residents. All Covid waste must be collected by a separate team of Covid waste collectors sent by the local authorities twice weekly.
If the number of quarantined households is low, a separate team appointed by the common biomedical waste treatment and disposal facility (CBWTF) operators may be appointed to collect the waste from quarantined homes.
The CPCB guidelines also state that biomedical waste can be deposited at designated centres established by Urban Local Bodies. This is an alternative in case Covid waste collection does not take place in your society. Find nearby common waste deposition centres for the collection of waste (e.g. a Dhalao, if one is established by your municipality) and deposit the waste there securely. All Covid waste is to be safely disposed of by local civic bodies in a CBWTF.
Handing over mixed or unlabelled Covid waste to regular waste collectors puts their health at risk and increases the spread of the virus since they may not be trained or equipped with PPE needed to handle biomedical waste.
As per CPCB guidelines, if your home has a Covid positive person, you can:
- Hand over the yellow bags containing biomedical waste at your doorstep to authorized waste collectors engaged by local bodies
- Hand over the biomedical waste at your doorstep to a waste collector engaged by the CBWTF operator
- Deposit the biomedical waste in yellow bags at designated deposition centres identified by the local authorities
Pre-disposal steps for quarantined households
- Designate a healthy family member (without any pre-existing conditions) to take care of the sick patient. Only that individual should be allowed to handle and dispose Covid waste
- Designate a separate Covid waste area in your house (preferably the patient’s own room)
- Wear all essential PPE while handling/ disposing waste, including mask, goggles, an apron and gloves when handling the patient’s waste
- All infective biomedical waste produced by the Covid patient must be securely wrapped in non-chlorinated bags and stored separately in a closed bin
- Other waste from the household must be bagged and stored separately. Do not mix this waste with the infective biomedical waste of the Covid positive person
- Tightly wrap sharp objects like needles so that they don’t tear the bag or harm sanitation workers
- Instruct other members of the household and domestic help not to handle the Covid waste bags
- If the patient isn’t able to use the toilet and uses a bedpan, their excreta is to be collected in diapers and disposed of in the yellow bags
- Linen, pillow covers, towels and clothes used by the patient may be stored in a disposable bag for 72 hours and then washed at home using commonly used detergents
- Masks and gloves used by the caregiver and other household members must be shredded and stored in a paper bag for 72 hours before disposal to avoid reuse
Disposal steps to follow
- Do not dump Covid waste into the society’s general waste bins or in open areas. Place yellow Covid waste bags in an appropriate-sized dustbin outside the doorstep before the arrival of collectors
- Do not combine Covid waste with the general solid waste of the society. The problem with mixing general solid waste with Covid waste is that the incinerators are not designed to process regular waste, and thus the system produces more emissions and ash, leading to environmental hazards and health problems to all in the vicinity
- Hand over the waste to authorities assigned ONLY for Covid waste collection, whether they be from the municipality or the local CBWTF team
- Before and after handling the waste, sanitise yourself and disinfect the bag before it’s tied. As an added safety precaution, seal the waste bag when it’s 70% filled to avoid accidental contact with infectious waste and use an extra bag to ensure twice the safety
- Sanitize as per protocol or shower after handling waste
- You can also label the bag as ‘Covid waste’, ‘used Covid masks’ etc. so as to warn potentially unprotected handlers
Responsibilities of the society’s MC
Government authorities are responsible for sealing the apartment of the affected person/s, displaying a Quarantine Alert on individual homes, mentioning the isolation period and declaring the home as a containment zone. Nearby floors may be declared as buffer zones.
Follow the Do’s and Don’ts below to ensure that the Covid waste in your society is handled carefully:
Do’s and Don’t of Covis Waste
- Strictly forbid the waste from quarantined homes from being disposed in the society’s common garbage collection area or from being mixed with the general waste
- Give masks and gloves to all members of the housekeeping staff. Ensure that they are educated about the risks of coming in contact with Covid waste, the protocol and safety measures to be followed to avoid contact with Covid waste
- Educate all residents about the correct steps for Covid waste management
- Ensure that door-to-door collection by designated ULB waste collectors or CBWTF members takes place regularly from quarantined homes
- Ensure that waste collectors are made aware about the households under isolation/ quarantine so they can take the necessary precautions
- Report any lag in service/careless handling (by either municipal waste collectors or CBWTF operators) to the zonal officer of your ULB
- In case Covid waste is not being collected from the society, the MC can make arrangements for the quarantined/ isolated household to compost its wet waste separately. In case of dry and sanitary waste, ensure that it is bagged as soon as it is generated. After 72 hours, it should be double-bagged and stored until collection takes place. Double bagging after a 72-hour gap renders the virus inactive on the outer covering
- Don’t allow regular housekeeping staff to handle Covid waste (yellow bags) or regular waste from quarantined homes
- Do not allow Covid waste to lie around in the building as it could put residents at risk
- Don’t permit delivery agents to directly deliver items to the quarantined home as they might inadvertently come in contact with the Covid waste in and outside the quarantined home
In case of accidental handling of waste by housekeeping staff or in the event that the patient has touched common surfaces in the home or society (such as lift, lobby, gates, etc., the domestic/ housekeeping staff should be trained to:
- Wash hands with soap and/or use a sanitizer
- Wear PPEs while disinfecting any surfaces touched by the patient
- Wear masks and gloves at all times within the premises/quarantined homes
How to coordinate with civic bodies for waste management
As soon as the patient is identified as Covid positive, the lab/hospital is required to alert the municipal authorities, who are immediately responsible for sealing, fumigating the patient’s home and disinfecting commonly used surfaces as well as arranging for waste transportation.
If all the required actions are not taken, the society should call zonal Covid helplines or seek help from nodal officers (if assigned) by the State to handle public grievances regarding Covid pandemic. Societies should not only strictly adhere to Covid waste guidelines, but also ensure that the local authorities are complying and cooperating in following them completely.
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