Medical waste disposal is a key part of pandemic planning and recovery that we must get right during the COVID-19 outbreak.
With COVID-19 spreading around the world, governments in several countries are focused on the question of how to improve medical waste disposal. The subject of medical incinerators at hospitals is a key part of the discussion.
Medical waste is one of the most dangerous forms of waste, especially if it is untreated before disposal. Medical waste facilities process many types of waste from hospitals including consumable items such as used gloves, protective gear and of course biological waste. These items are often light, but bulky.
There is a great deal of material which cannot go to landfills or standard municipal waste to energy plants because they require much higher temperatures and more time to destroy pathogens which may have contaminated the materials. Additionally, the heroic medical and healthcare staff who are at the front lines to contain the COVID-19 pandemic should be shielded from exposure to infectious healthcare waste through proper medical waste systems.
However, many Asian developing countries lack proper facilities and regulations for the handling and disposal of medical and hazardous waste. Hazardous waste is often openly burned, comingled with municipal solid waste, illegally recycled and resold, posing significant threat to both the health of the handler and the environment.
When medical waste is treated, it is often in old and inadequate facilities with limited capacity and safeguards. Such outdated facilities should be modernized to avoid the emission of toxic gases and generate clean energy from waste. Most developing countries in Asia do not have the capacity to modernize their systems by rolling out mobile medical waste treatment facilities.
There is a need for modernization of medical waste capacity regionally. This can be achieved through a strategy for the introduction and commercial deployment of new technologies across the waste value chain:
Here are five ways to improve medical waste disposal across the region:
Resilient sanitation for medical waste can be achieved with some reframing of the current medical waste supply chain. The firms currently providing many of these services can be tapped to implement these newer technologies in their local markets. Resource-constrained developing countries can leverage the private sector to efficiently manage the medical waste supply chain with the latest technologies and systems.
Proper disposal of medical waste through resilient sanitation systems is a key part of pandemic planning and recovery. If we can get it right during COVID-19, the fallout from the next outbreak will be much easier to manage.
Authors: Stephen Peters, ADB Senior Energy Specialist Christine P. Chan, ADB Senior Investment Specialist