The Covid-19 pandemic has produced tens of thousands of tons of additional medical waste, threatening human health and the environment, according to a report by the World Health Organization.
To get an idea of the scale of the problem, the WHO examined the fate of 87,000 tonnes of personal protective equipment, such as rubber gloves and masks, which were shipped around the world as part of from a United Nations emergency initiative between March 2020 and November 2021. Most of this equipment ended up as waste, the UN agency said.
Additional waste “threaten human and environmental health and reveal an urgent need to improve waste management practices”, said the United Nations health agency.
“While countries have scrambled to secure personal protective equipment (PPE) to deal with the crisis, less attention has been paid to disposing of coronavirus healthcare waste in a safe and effective manner. sustainable », the WHO said.
“Providing healthcare workers with the right PPE is absolutely vital. But it’s also vital to make sure it can be used safely without impacting the environment.”, said WHO emergency director Michael Ryan.
Additionally, more than 140 million test kits have been shipped, with the potential to generate 2,600 tonnes of mostly plastic, non-infectious waste and 731,000 liters of chemical waste. Around 97% of plastic waste from testing is incinerated, according to the report.
And the first eight billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered worldwide produced 144,000 tonnes of additional waste such as syringes, needles and safety boxes.
The WHO does not recommend using gloves for vaccine injections, but the report says it appears to be common practice.
Around a third of healthcare facilities are not equipped to handle existing waste loads, the WHO said. Overwhelmed waste systems, particularly in low-income countries, mean that healthcare workers are at risk of needlestick injuries and burns, as well as exposure to pathogenic microorganisms, adds the same source.
People living near poorly managed landfills and waste disposal sites are exposed to contaminated air and poor water quality.