COVID-19 medical waste poses threat to environment: WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Tuesday that the vast amount of waste produced in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic posed a threat to human and environmental health.
The tens of thousands of tons of extra medical waste had put a huge strain on healthcare waste management systems, the WHO said in a report.
The extra waste is "threatening human and environmental health and exposing a dire need to improve waste management practices," the United Nations health agency said.
As countries scrambled to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to cope with the crisis, less attention was paid to disposing of COVID-19 health care waste safely and sustainably, the WHO said.
The report looked at the 1.5 billion units – approximately 87,000 tons – of PPE procured between March 2020 and November 2021, and shipped out to countries via the U.N. system – a small fraction of the global total.
Most of this equipment has likely ended up as waste, the WHO said.
"It is absolutely vital to provide health workers with the right PPE. But it is also vital to ensure that it can be used safely without impacting on the surrounding environment," said WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan.
Furthermore, over 140 million test kits have been shipped, with the potential to generate 2,600 tons of mainly plastic, non-infectious waste and 731,000 liters of chemical waste.
Approximately 97% of plastic waste from tests is incinerated, the report said.
And the first eight billion COVID-19 vaccine doses administered globally produced 144,000 tons of additional waste such as syringes, needles and safety boxes.
The WHO does not recommend using gloves for vaccine injections but the report said it appeared to be common practice.
Gloves, in terms of volume, constitute the greatest proportion of PPE waste of all items procured by the U.N., the report said.