The Covid-19 pandemic has drawn increased attention to the generation and disposal of biomedical waste. The ongoing situation has led to a massive rise in the generation of biomedical waste and its safe disposal has become the topmost priority for local authorities in order to contain the spread of Covid-19.
States such as Bihar, Delhi, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Tripura and Uttarakhand are on the verge of exhausting their capacity to treat Covid-19-related biomedical waste as they have already utilised 70 per cent of their incinerator capacity. The quantum of biomedical waste has shot up exponentially in highly populous cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
Many states in the country have taken initiatives to safely dispose of the accumulated hazardous biomedical waste. The initiatives range from installing separate bins for hazardous waste, developing mobile applications to track biomedical waste and deploying special vehicles to collect waste from hospitals treating Covid-19 patients.
The Andhra Pradesh government launched an online waste exchange website for the Andhra Pradesh Environment Management Corporation in June 2020. The initiative has been taken to ensure environment protection, covering 100 per cent safe disposal, proper tracking, scrutiny and audit of toxic waste. The Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board and Vijayawada Municipal Corporation have installed unique Covid-19 virus-shaped bins in the city for the disposal of Covid-19-related waste such as face shields, masks and gloves. A total of 150 such bins have been installed in various parts of Vijayawada.
The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation in coordination with the Telangana State Pollution Control Board is planning to install another bin in addition to the wet and dry waste bins at Cyber Towers and Hi-Tec City. The additional bin will be used exclusively for Covid-19-related biomedical waste.
In Guwahati, around 45 hospitals and clinics have implemented a barcode system for biomedical waste. The system helps them to keep track of the quantity of biomedical waste being collected, treated and disposed of. The Punjab government also plans to implement a barcode system to ensure scientific management of biomedical waste in all government and private hospitals across the state.
Kerala has mandated the use of separate vehicles to transport the waste from Covid-19 centres and has given specific instructions on the treatment of red waste, which is autoclaved at hospitals and is recyclable. Tamil Nadu has exhausted nearly 91 per cent of its disposal facilities and in view of the growing pressure on the existing facilities, the state government plans to develop three biomedical waste treatment facilities on the outskirts of Chennai, Krishnagiri and Cuddalore.
On the technological front, the Central Pollution Control Board has developed COVID19BWM, an application to monitor the life cycle of waste from collection, segregation, transportation to incineration by geotagging each process and submitting details on a common platform.
West Bengal has mandated the use of a mobile application to track biomedical waste disposal from all Covid-19 facilities, including testing centres. The state government is also working on a proposal to tag biomedical waste with a bar to track it from end to end. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) is planning to install 7,000 yellow waste bins across the city. This will ensure proper disposal and tracking of biomedical waste. Additionally, the KMC has assigned the task of collection and transportation of biomedical waste from quarantine households to a private agency.
The New Delhi Municipal Council has set up a three-member team for door-to-door collection of biomedical waste from the homes of Covid-19-affected patients and its disposal in a scientific manner. In Maharashtra, around 82 per cent of urban local bodies have set up separate teams for the collection of contaminated Covid-19 waste. It has also set up 30 common facilities for scientific disposal of the biomedical waste generated due to Covid-19. The Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation has set up a dedicated site at Umbarde for scientific disposal of biomedical waste.
The way ahead
The aforementioned initiatives have helped states in tackling the problem of mounting bio-medical waste. The prevailing situation has also highlighted various shortcomings in biomedical waste management and the efforts by local authorities have set the ball rolling for the introduction of much-needed reforms.
The reforms must ensure that major cities across the country are able to tackle any such issue in the future with ease. They should also give an impetus to scientific disposal of biomedical waste in order to prevent the existing facilities from reaching their saturation point early.