“The U.S. is looking to China, where daily medical-waste volumes jumped six-fold in Wuhan as more people contracted the virus, prompting the government to deploy dozens of portable waste-treatment facilities. Chinese officials recently said medical-waste facilities in 29 cities were at or near full capacity,” Wall Street Journal’s Saabira Chaudhuri wrote.
Waste Dive, the garbage and recycling publication, reported COVID-19 has left the country dealing with mountains of medical waste—much of it has been piled along curbs and roadsides. During the height of the outbreak in Wuhan was dealing with 240 tons of medical waste per day, versus the normal 40 tons.
Safely dealing with medical wastes is not new, particularly in our country; however, volumes are increasing. In 2016, worldwide more than 2 million tons of biohazardous waste was created in hospitals, veterinary clinics and homes, MedPro disposal reported. As China has experienced, that volume quickly explodes—often overnight.
“This staggering amount of waste has to go somewhere, and until recently most of it just went into landfills to be hidden and forgotten about,” MedPro reports. Companies have increased their focused on recycling. Pfiedler, a company that specializes in continuing medical education, is hoping to recycle up to 25 percent of surgical waste.
Meanwhile, lots has changed for workers who collect and process our trash. They require the same protective gear as doctors, hospital workers and first responders—all of which is in short supply.
While medical wastes are heavily regulated, the situation surround the COVID-19 virus changes by the hour. Bob Cappadona, Veolia North America’s executive vice president and COO for environmental solutions and services, told Waste Dive his company is currently dealing with the “known and the unknown,” while trying to take precautions to protect our employees.
“The company which operates worldwide, has experience dealing with outbreaks like Ebola, but Cappadona acknowledged the current pandemic is unprecedented in its scope and impacts.”
While hospitals label and safely store their contaminated waste before disposal, household trash is another concern especially with government mandates for people stay at home. While trash collections from business and construction are down, residential garbage has increased.
With restaurants closed to in-house dining and peopled confined to their homes, drive-thru take-out and food delivery services are growing. Correspondingly, so is the accompanying number of disposable food containers which are trashed.
While our garbage problems mount as the pandemic peaks, there are three things people can do now: continue to stay home, make sure garbage bags are tightly tied, and thank the trash collectors too!