COVID-19: Household PPE Disposal

With how the things have been for the past two months now, it is interesting to see something which was the focus of my thesis become a topic of discussion at all levels, everywhere. There is, however, an aspect which will surely become a hot topic in the months that follow – it concerns the generation of plastic waste during this pandemic and its appropriate disposal.

If the increased consumption of single-use plastics wasn’t enough, there is also the fact that even when meant for reuse, these cannot be recycled once contaminated. Hospitals have a waste stream which is tightly segregated and regulated, where contaminated waste goes straight to the incinerator and there are special waste management teams or companies handling that.

I am concerned about how this plays out at a household level, where personal protective equipment is being disposed across into the regular waste streams. As there is no separate bin for waste with either biological or chemical contamination, I feel the surge of PPE being disposed off from households will lead to new problems. Most local waste collection companies also do not anticipate, nor are prepared, to deal with this biologically hazardous waste which will come in mixed with the household trash. Though the situation before allowed for minor occurrence of such bio-hazards in the stream, a significant increase in that, in either the regular trash or recycling streams, would add on to the problems.

I think it is absolutely necessary that along with the correct use of masks (in which there was demonstrably a huge knowledge gap), people should also be informed about the correct way to dispose off their contaminated PPE. The details of disposal need to be stated as clearly as they are in the infographics on correct mask use. Currently, all disposal is vaguely mentioned and incorrectly shown as flinging a used mask into a trashcan – addressing that other part of the product’s life cycle is really necessary this time.