Management of Waste During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic
It is apparent that we have reached a critical period for the prevention and control of Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Behind the difficult subject of how we continue to control and curtail the virus through control of the movement of people, whilst preventing a crash of the economy, there is perhaps a much greater concern which is less in the view of the general population. The management (or perhaps more accurately the mismanagement) of the immense volumes of medical waste generated as a result of the pandemic has the potential to dramatically increase the spread.
In hindsight, some of us may have been naïve to believe that the pandemic would affect us for a relatively finite time period. It is now evident that we continue to be impacted, and will be for some time, with the changing seasons even serving to exacerbate the situation. Further, long-term changes in our practices and behaviours as a result of the pandemic will ensure that the waste management problem will reverberate for some time even after the more prominent issues become less of a concern.
The dramatic rise in waste volumes not only results from the considerable rise in patients requiring treatment, but also as a result in the management of ALL waste associated with relevant medical facilities. Many items which typically would not be considered as medical waste now have to be treated with the same caution. In addition to the extent of PPE in use, we also have to consider more generalised items such as food, packaging, single use plastics etc. coming from such facilities.
The increase in volumes of clinical waste generated as a result of the pandemic are unprecedented beyond belief, such that waste management chains in some regions have been driven to an abrupt collapse. In regions where large scale municipal waste incinerators exist, measures have been taken to allow for the safe destruction of medical waste in these systems such that the demand on capacity may be met. However, there are many regions across the Globe where this option does not exist. That aside, it is important to note that the time to disposal and the extent of transportation to a treatment facility can further increase the risk of spread. Extended disposal time and transportation inevitably involves a number of interdisciplinary personnel which increases the risk of spread, as well as the risk of mixing of waste. Therefore, there is significant merit in the consideration of smaller scale localised emergency incineration facilities in order to contribute to a reduction in risk.
Further consideration must be given to remote communities not to mention disaster and conflict affected areas where a lack of infrastructure and resources exacerbates the problem further. Such areas are likely to face enormous problems in relation to the safe management and destruction of waste, and the potential for unregulated waste management increases the risk to the population further, not only as a result of the direct risk of spread of the virus, but also the environmental impact of potential illegal dumping and uncontrolled ‘incineration’. In such environments, waste pickers and scavengers become especially vulnerable, working with limited safety equipment and potentially little awareness of the extent of risk they face.
Treatment of medical waste at source in small-scale emergency relief incinerations systems offers a dramatic reduction in risk associated with the spread of COVID-19 as part of a structured and reliable waste management strategy.
Over many years, Matthews Environmental Solutions Ltd. Have pioneered the development of a vast array of clinical waste incineration systems, from small-scale mobile systems best suited to work camps, medical facilities in small, remote communities, and to support aid missions, up to large capacity, continuous operation EU compliant systems such as out state of the art installation on the island of Jersey.
The time, resource and space associated with the planning and development of large-scale, dedicated facilities is a prohibitive reality which further supports the strategy of small-scale localised waste treatment systems. The UN Environment Programme has published a number of papers aimed at supporting those with the responsibility to manage high risk waste during the pandemic, offering advice on the decision-making process associated with developing a robust strategy. One important aspect of these decisions is the impact on air quality associated with the management of this waste. Pandemic aside, the first measure in reducing the environmental impact of waste is to not generate it in the first instance. Unfortunately, the current waste problem is a factor of this first method simply not being an option. Therefore, the next measure is to identify the best available technology to facilitate the safest and most reliable destruction of the waste. Steam autoclaves are often considered a more environmentally conscious alternative to incineration however this comes with a signification penalty in a case where the volumes of waste are so immense. The fact is, there is very little reduction in waste volume associated with this method. Hence, whilst the risk has been abated, there is still the need to further develop the management strategy in order to manage and dispose of the resultant waste.
For this reason, Matthews Environmental Solutions Ltd. firmly believe that our range of medical waste incinerators represent the best available technology in this current climate. Our small-scale medical waste incinerators can be quickly deployed to a clients designated location, leaving our factory fully tested and commissioned, able to be set to work on site swiftly, with little resource requirement. Further, many of our machines can readily be made mobile, either trailer mounted, containerised, or skid mounted such that they can be redeployed to alternative locations quickly and easily. Going a step further, automatic loading of waste can be readily added to these machines further reducing the risk associated with contact with the waste, as can wet scrubber pollution control systems aimed at further reducing the levels of pollutants released into the atmosphere.
All Matthews Environmental Solutions Ltd. medical waste incinerators are designed with generous primary combustion chambers, reducing the volumetric heat release, improving environmental performance, supported with forced combustion air distributed through strategically placed jets within the chamber thus promoting efficient and safe destruction of the waste. High capacity secondary combustion chambers further promote improved environmental performance through efficient control of all pollutants which can be thermally treated.
The strategic siting of a Matthews Environmental Solutions Ltd. medical waste incinerator can serve to dramatically reduce the environmental impact associated with unsound practices such as open burning, or the use of other, inadequately designed incineration systems.
The current pandemic situation has served to highlight gaps in the waste management strategy that likely already existed pre-pandemic but were perhaps less of a concern when considering much lower volumes of lower risk waste. It can therefore be said that the current need to develop more robust strategies presents an opportunity to develop strategies in preparation for the future to come. Due to the robust nature and extent of the design-life of a Matthews Environmental Solutions Ltd. medical waste incinerator, we can be sure that these systems have the potential to form part of a much more long-term, reliable, and safe waste management strategy.