As the Coronavirus continues to affect millions of people the world over, Governments are hurriedly implementing new protocols and processes to try and ensure the protection of their communities.
COVID-19 is not the first pandemic the world has experienced. As such, there are lessons to be learnt which can aid an efficient slow down in the spread of this disease.
During the outbreaks of SARS and Ebola, for example, efficient waste management processes were implemented which acted as an integral force in halting their spread, which ultimately led to the saving of many lives.
However, while Governments pay close attention to the ways in which hospitals care for the infected, people in isolation at home are being given little guidance on the steps they should take to keep their personal environment clean and free from infection.
So far, advice simply says any potentially infected waste should be kept separate from general waste for 72 hours. Beyond this point, there is no publicly available information on how the waste is handled, managed and destroyed.
Across Europe, countries which have confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease are acting more proactively. In Finland, waste generated by an infected person – tissues, bed sheets, towels, face masks – now must be collected separately from residual waste. In Zagreb, Croatia, every single waste container is being washed and disinfected after waste collections.
In Italy, which is suffering from the highest death rate in the world, waste generated by households with COVID-19 positive people is classed as hazardous, with higher levels of regulation implemented to ensure these materials are destroyed in line with medical waste – such as that from hospitals. Portugal has acted similarly.
Not taking action to change normal practice in community refuse collection in the UK, in line with what is known and becomes known about the Coronavirus, will – without any shadow of doubt – lead to it remaining at large, resulting in loss of life for many more months than is currently anticipated.
As social distancing – or ‘lockdown’ – is now enforced, and those who suspect they have the virus are told to self-isolate in their homes, now is the time to start considering how waste generated by these families will be managed, in order to protect others.
To break it down as simply as possible, there are just three steps needed to implement an effective waste management scheme within an environment affected by an epidemic or pandemic situation.
Firstly, movement in, out and around social areas should be minimised, and contact with people other than those with who live in your household should be banned. Only those with essential roles in community services should continue their practice, and they should isolate where possible. This is the main step our Government has taken so far to reduce the spread of the infection.
Secondly, all waste should be categorised, with contaminated waste stored securely. A system must be put in place to ensure each contaminated piece of material is destroyed at its earliest opportunity. Within hospitals and care settings, this way of working is long established and there will have been very little change in process despite the spread of the Coronavirus. However, as our homes now effectively become mini epicentres, with everyone with a property likely to catch the virus if one resident does, the same must be applied to our homes.
Thirdly, incineration must be used to destroy infected material at source, ensuring total obliteration of the pathogens causing the disease. Incinerators are the only way to effectively destroy all infected and contaminated waste generated by Coronavirus sufferers. The key benefit of incineration over all other waste management facilities is its bio-security – no other waste management process can give you complete peace of mind when a disease outbreak like Coronavirus occurs.
During the Ebola breakouts in 2014 and 2019, we received orders from UNICEF and The Red Cross for our large-scale medical burners, to see whether incineration could play a role in containing the virus to its hotspots – or epicentres. We donated burners and manufactured many more, training aid staff on how to use them effectively, before every unit was shipped. In both years, this whole process was completed – from start to finish – within three weeks.
Like any epidemic, Coronavirus is not just about our health; it is accompanied by the closure of businesses, dramatic reductions in travel and tourism, with the risk that many trades and industries will simply ground to a halt. Only by reacting effectively and thinking about the many ways in which waste is generated during these times, does society have the opportunity to return to normality in a reasonable timeframe. Otherwise, there will be years ahead of challenges, of rebuilding, and of potential deaths.