More medical waste expected as COVID-19 cases surge

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2020 04:45 PM | Updated as of Mar 27 2020 05:18 PM

Trash collectors gather garbage at a creekside residential area in Tondo Manila on June 26, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — An environmental group has warned the Philippine government to ensure the safety of communities as medical waste is expected to increase with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

“We need to educate the public and urge direct interventions from public authorities on the need to disinfect used face masks, tissue papers, and other waste potentially contaminated with COVID-19,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, in a statement.

“If the government does not initiate mass disinfection measures, the country’s 44,000 tons of waste generated daily are now likely infectious and can cause new surges in COVID-19 outbreaks,” he said.

Kalikasan said that while the country has 135 treatment, storage and disposal facilities for hospital waste, the increased use of face masks, personal protective equipment and other contaminated waste outside medical facilities may get mixed with municipal waste.

Since the start of the outbreak, ordinary Filipinos have resorted to wearing face masks when going outdoors. This is despite the Department of Health’s reminder that only those who are sick and are working in hospitals are encouraged to wear it. Local government units have also started giving out face shields to their personnel amid the Luzon lockdown.

“Municipal waste collectors are the first to be exposed to this infectious contagion,” Dulce said. “They do not have sufficient personal protective equipment and do not have employment and other economic securities.”

The group pointed out that only 32 percent of villages have a materials recovery facility and only 24 percent of local government units have access to sanitary landfills.

Kalikasan urged the public to

  • disinfect face masks, soiled tissue paper and other healthcare waste with a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach, nine parts water) or 60-70% alcohol solution.
  • be careful with handling garbage and with the use of cleaning agents by wearing PPEs
  • make sure the disinfecting solution is appropriate for the material you are cleaning or simply use soap and water to be safe
  • segregate the PPEs and healthcare waste in a separate trash bag and label as containing ‘face masks and other healthcare waste.

The group said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for COVID-19 ensure the allocation of funds for waste management.

“The Duterte government has to do more to shield garbage collectors and sanitation workers from COVID-19 infection. It should also provide capacity building, sanitation materials, and protective equipment for households and barangays,” Dulce said.

On the other hand, the group warned against the “indiscriminately spraying of bleach solutions and other cleaning agents on unsegregated waste (that) may result into chemical reactions that can create dioxins and other pollutants.”
The DENR has already asked garbage collectors to disinfect waste to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. It said it will coordinate with LGUs on how to properly dispose waste.