The second wave is not just more widespread and alarming, it has completely disrupted systems, and has put pressure on existing waste management operations. Volunteers are stretched chasing beds, ambulances, plasma and more.. And the last thing on everyone’s mind is waste management. 

News of housekeeping staff , sanitary workers and other informal waste workers testing positive are on the rise. As frontline workers they are often at the receiving end, sometimes because of how we dispose of waste and sometimes because we don’t care what we dispose of. But in the current situation, there is the added risk of the inability to manage COVID waste. The reasons are multiple- instances of  brutality of the symptoms catching the  families unaware, in extreme cases, the panic among those who are asymptomatic, the mental exhaustion of receiving news of family and friends testing positive and more. 

Messages on whatsapp are again increasing with questions like :

  • How does one dispose of waste?
  • What if the apartment’s housekeeping staff does not service?
  • My household is COVID positive, what do I do?
  • Our PG owner has dismissed housekeeping staff, and we are storing dry waste and giving out wet waste in black plastic bags as no one wants to enter the building as there are some positive cases
  • Surgical masks are back in vogue, with instructions to use double layered masks – surgical inside and cloth outside.  What does one do with the waste?
  • Where do I find yellow bags? 
  • My apartment has 19 positive cases, but waste is not collected in yellow bags. Who is responsible?
  • My housekeeping staff does not have any PPE, while collecting waste. What do I do?

The responses to these messages have been varied, and sometimes confusing. On the other hand,  people have also been asserting that it is time to switch to managing your own waste. While intentions are rightly placed, empathy at all fronts is the key. For the COVID positive household  and for the informal and formal waste workers, safety is the  priority. 

So how does one manage waste?

The Central Pollution Control Board Guidelines for Handling, Treatment and Disposal of Waste Generated during Treatment/Diagnosis/ Quarantine of COVID-19 Patients

21st July, 2020 Revision 4 is being circulated widely, in addition to the circular issued by the Commissionerate of Health and Family Welfare Services – August 14, 2020, on the management of solid waste generated by COVID19 positive persons in home care .  The standard management practice remains unchanged:

  1. Dry Waste or Non Biodegradable Waste  ( Paper, Plastic, Glass, Metal) 
  2. Wet Waste or Biodegradable Waste  ( Kitchen Waste)
  3. Reject Waste ( includes Sanitary Waste and Domestic Hazardous)
  • Reduce the quantity of waste going out: The easiest solution is to manage wet waste in the house using a composter, or an old bucket or empty pot with hole in it. Line it with stones/pebbles, add soil mixture. Add kitchen waste, layer it with some brown material. Layer again. Think of how you would make layered biryani, click here for more information. 

For sanitary waste, diapers and pads, switch to reusables. 

Check the sustainable menstruation options available – Dry Waste – Wet Waste 
  • Follow Disposal Etiquette: Clean and dry all packaging and containers. Flatten cardboards so that they consume less space. All sanitary waste must be wrapped in a newspaper, marked with an X, and sealed. Ensure if putting out wet waste the bin it is clear of any lining whatsoever.

Waste Management of residences who are presumptive of COVID

As per Central Pollution Control Board Guidelines for Handling, Treatment and Disposal of Waste Generated during Treatment/Diagnosis/ Quarantine of COVID-19 Patients July 17, 2020, the following is applicable:

At the Generator Level

  • Three way segregation of waste will still have to be followed ( See section above), and disposed off as per Solid Waste Management Rules 2016
  • Wet waste, including left-over food,  and Dry waste (Paper, Plastic Metal and Glass) generated or handled by COVID patients should be collected separately along with other general solid waste in bags securely tied  in leak -proof bags, sprayed with sodium hypo-chlorite solution (or household disinfectant) and handed over to authorised waste collectors
  • Yellow coloured bags shall not be used for this. 
  • Used masks, gloves and tissues or swabs contaminated with blood/body fluids of COVID patients, including used syringes, medicines, etc., if any generated must be collected in yellow bags that are securely tied. 
  • Masks and gloves used by persons other than COVID patients should be kept in paper bag for a minimum of 72 (48 hours)  hours prior to disposal of the same as general waste ( wet waste and dry waste) after cutting the same to prevent reuse
  • The (inner and outer) surface of containers/bins/trolleys used for storage of COVID waste should be disinfected with 1% sodium hypochlorite solution  or household disinfectants

Collection and Processing

  • Only authorised waste collectors , with a separate team of designated staff/ workers, are permitted for door steps collection of biomedical waste
  • Provide yellow colored bags (designated for BioMedical Waste) to the persons responsible for operating home-care. If required, such bags may be provided through the Common BioMedical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF).
  • Ensure that the staff collecting COVID waste are trained on sanitization, collection and precautionary measures  such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, physical distancing, use of PPE and disposal 
  • Ensure that staff handling and collecting general solid waste and biomedical waste from home care centers  are provided with adequate Personnel Protective Equipment such as three layer masks, splash proof aprons/gowns, heavy-duty gloves, gumboots and safety goggles. These PPEs must worn at all times, during collection and handling of waste
  • Prior to collection, ensure that the bags containing general solid waste  and the bin containing yellow bags are sprayed with disinfectant solution (1% sodium hypochlorite solution  or household disinfectants
  • Use separate  dedicated bins/ carts/ trolleys / vehicles for transport of biomedical waste and general solid waste separately. Ensure sanitization of vehicles with 1% sodium hypochlorite after each trip

What should apartments do?

Apartments and gated communities must put in proper Standard Operating Procedures to maintain waste, especially given the rise in cases, and the system collapse, and that everyone and everything is overwhelmed. 

Equally important in this process is to avoid stigmatising anyone, and clear myths and misconceptions if any. While enforcing the overall goal of responsibility towards the environment, one must understand some choices in this use of disposables are inevitable. 

While the larger goal is to reduce waste and avoid disposables, it is essential that there is empathy with COVID households in case they are unable to do so. 

Step 1: Stock Taking

  • Have all the housekeeping staff access to personal protective equipment, including supplies for replenishment?
  • Do you have all the details of COVID positive residences?
  • Take stock of the existing infrastructure and the system being followed?. 
  •  How many housekeeping staff service residents per floor ( including the number of flats per floor)? 
  • What are the PPE available to the housekeeping staff?
  •  How is waste collected on days that all streams are collected? How many bins are available to each team?
  • What is the arrangement in place for staff on leave?
  • Are residents using the 2bin 1 bag method to hand out waste? 
  • What are the days for dry waste collection? 
  • How is sanitary waste being handed out and collected? Are all residents wrapping sanitary waste in a newspaper bag that is securely tied and marked with an X? Does the housekeeping staff have a separate bin on wheels to collect the same?
  • Are sanitisers available for housekeeping staff
  • For residences who are presumptive of COVID – Do you have a separate vendor for biomedical waste collection?
  • How is the housekeeping staff made aware of precautionary measures to follow, in absence of a separate team to handle waste? Is there a separate time slot to collect waste? Are yellow bags given to these residents? It might be useful that the disinfectant solution (1% sodium hypochlorite solution or household disinfectants is also available to the residents
  • Are the bins for collection separate from the regular collection?
  • How often are the bins/ bags sanitised/ sprayed with disinfectant solution (1% sodium hypochlorite solution or household disinfectants
  • Is there a system to maintain records of COVID waste?
  • Has there been any advisory to urge residents to start composting? ( While this is not practical in extreme cases, this can be suggested for mild cases) 

Please discuss suitable options with your vendor

Step 2: Promotion of Sustainable Options

Apartments and Gated Communities  can encourage sustainable options for residents

  • Host information series on home composting, recycling etiquette and sustainable menstruation options
  • Provide a list of vendors supplying biodegradable cutlery for delivery food to households who may have COVID. Note given that the rates may not be practical, it must not be imposed upon. However, it is important to provide suitable options, for residents to make informed decisions
  • A quarantined resident can be provided with a compost bin and necessary add ons, especially in mild cases. 

Step 3: Implement a system that is inclusive

In order to extend duty of care to housekeeping staff and other formal and informal waste workers, it is important to design systems that are inclusive, with safety as the highest priority. 

Suggested Reading:  Zero-Waste Covid Management by Kannika Iyengar, October 7, 2020

Reference Documents

Pinky Chandran, with inputs from  Lalitha Mondreti, Marwan Abubaker and Savita Hiremath