“Biomedical waste management was already a big challenge before COVID, and now it’s an even bigger one. One of the most common queries we get from member-apartments is on COVID waste management,” says Vikram Rai, General Secretary of the Bangalore Apartments’ Federation (BAF), a collective of over 500 apartment RWAs (Resident Welfare Associations) in the city.
Bengaluru has struggled with waste segregation for long. But improper and irresponsible disposal of COVID waste endangers other citizens, more so waste collectors.
Following are simplified guidelines on COVID waste management based on the state government’s SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) as well as practical inputs from Randeep D, BBMP Special Commissioner (Solid Waste Management).
Different rules for those under quarantine and isolation
Randeep says, “Segregation of solid waste is still done in three streams, same as before – dry, wet and sanitary. Only difference is, we are treating waste from COVID homes as biomedical waste.” However, waste from a house where someone is in quarantine is treated differently from one where a person is in isolation. (Home quarantine is for those who are suspected to have COVID or have symptoms; they may or may not be COVID positive. Whereas home isolation is prescribed for confirmed COVID patients.)
Randeep clarifies the difference between the two scenarios:
In case of home quarantine, waste should be segregated into the three streams as usual. Masks, gloves and other COVID waste should be segregated as reject/sanitary waste.
If you are in home isolation, club the dry waste and sanitary waste together and keep them in yellow (non-chlorinated) bags. These bags would be collected by regular waste collectors/pourakarmikas, who would then hand it over to an authorised vendor who runs a CBWTF (Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment and Disposal Facility).
Wet waste should be stored separately and handed over to waste collectors/ pourakarmikas as usual. Alternately, you can compost the wet waste at home itself.
The yellow non-chlorinated bags for storing dry and sanitary waste are to be provided by the BBMP. However, Randeep says this has not been possible in all cases. He says the colour of the bags is not as important as them being non-chlorinated. In 2018, the Biomedical Waste Management Rules 2016 were amended to phase out the use of chlorinated bags in medical establishments, since these bags can release carcinogenic dioxins when incinerated. Non-chlorinated bags are available for purchase online.
BBMP has currently authorised at least four vendors for biomedical waste processing.
Randeep says, “Residents need not reach out to these collectors themselves. If anyone has trouble arranging biomedical waste collection, please reach out to the BBMP.” Residents can reach out to zonal officers, or other officers the apartment RWA is in touch with, he says. Find the list of zonal health officers here. However, Randeep says that a large number of quarantine/isolation households have been left out of the COVID waste collection system.
Disposing different types of COVID waste
The government of Karnataka issued SOPs on biomedical waste management on May 22, and has modified these since then. Following are a few highlights relevant to residential settings.
Biomedical Waste Management Rules, 2016, identify the following as yellow-category biomedical waste:
- Human and animal anatomical waste
- Soiled waste (contaminated with blood, body fluids, dressings, plasters casts, cotton swabs, etc)
- Contaminated linen, mattresses and bedding
In the context of COVID, any disposable material (plates, cups, etc) used by patients should also be considered as biomedical waste. Contaminated general plastic waste too should be disposed in non-chlorinated bags.
For practical purposes, BBMP has decided to treat all dry and sanitary waste from COVID-positive houses as biomedical waste, to be segregated in yellow bags and disposed of only by authorised vendors. All waste collectors and handlers, including pourakarmikas and CBWTF staff, should have appropriate PPE.
Following are special considerations for certain categories of waste.
- In households where someone is in quarantine/isolation, used masks, head caps, shoe covers, disposable linen, gown, non-plastic and semi-plastic overalls, should be disposed in the yellow non-chlorinated bags.
- Used masks and gloves from any household (not necessarily where someone is in quarantine/isolation) should be kept in a paper bag for a minimum of 72 hours prior to disposal.
- If a COVID patient is unable to use the toilet and their excreta is collected in a diaper, this must be treated as biomedical waste and placed in a yellow bag.
- If bedpan is used, the faeces should be washed into the toilet. And the bedpan should be cleaned with natural detergent and water, disinfected with 1% sodium hypochlorite solution, and rinsed and cleaned with water.
Wastewater from home care facilities
- Disinfect the treated wastewater with 1% sodium hypochlorite solution.
- Avoid using treated wastewater from potentially contaminated homes/medical facilities for gardening, toilet flushing, etc.
The SOPs lay a lot of emphasis on BBMP’s role in providing non-chlorinated bags, ensuring proper waste collection and bringing biomedical waste vendors on board. However, as Randeep says, COVID waste is still not being collected from a large number of quarantine/isolation households. In such a scenario, some apartments have devised their own best practices for managing waste, sticking as closely as possible to the guidelines.
In-house composting of wet waste: A quaratined/isolated resident is provided a compost bin with enough compost/cocopeat to start processing their wet waste.
Segregating dry and sanitary waste: Meera Nair, a resident of Springfields Apartments, Sarjapura Road, says they now ensure all residents (including those under home quarantine) segregate dry and sanitary waste as required. Residents are given green bags to collect dry waste, and pink ones for sanitary waste.
Double-bagging and spacing out collection: Also, Springfields collects waste only on two days of the week – Friday and Tuesday. They bag one batch of waste on Mondays, and double-bag and dispose of it on Fridays. The second batch of waste is bagged first on Thursday, and then double-bagged and disposed of the next Tuesday. Double-bagging after a 72-hour gap ensures that the virus is not active on the outer covering when waste collectors handle it.
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