In January alone, more than 600 tons of Covid-19-related waste was treated - a stark increase of almost 50% when compared to December.
The first two waves of Covid-19 infections led to more than 3,000 tons of medical waste and as the third wave beckons, waste management operations have begun to gear up for a surge in medical waste.
Averda waste management, well versed in collecting medical waste, said it had already begun to prepare for an influx of medical waste, making provisions such as arranging for medical waste containers.
In January alone, Averda treated more than 600 tons of Covid-19-related waste – a stark increase of almost 50% compared to December 2020, which was the peak of the second wave.
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During this time, the company collected, treated and disposed of around 350 tons of waste.
From June to December last year, more than 3,390 tons of medical waste was treated.
This increase comes not only from personal protective equipment (PPE), but also vaccination waste.
PPE litter not disposed of correctly can end up polluting the environment. Photo: iStock
As infections increase, so does the use of masks, gloves, PPE gear and needles.
“On top of that we need to keep in mind that the medical waste landscape will once again change with a further increase in the volume of ‘sharps’ as a result of the vaccine roll-out,” Averda MD Justice Tootla said.
Tootla said February’s numbers have shown a decrease from January, but warned that healthcare facilities need to use the second wave of infections “as a baseline” to prepare for the next wave.
“We have dealt with many pandemics and hazardous outbreaks over the years such as the listeriosis outbreak in 2018 and cholera outbreaks from neighbouring countries, so Averda treatment facilities have enough capacity to handle the waste,” Tootla said.
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However, Tootla said medical waste generated due to Covid-19 had resulted in extended shifts and service times to accommodate client demands.
Some of the most hazardous type of medical waste include infectious, hazardous pharmaceutical and cytotoxic waste.
Needles, for example, are disposed of using “sharps” containers, which is a hard plastic box. Once a container is used, it is sealed and must follow stringent protocols when collected and sent for destruction, Tootla said.
Needles cannot simply be thrown away, but must follow disposal protocols. Photo: iStock
An alternative to sharps containers is for needle incinerators to be installed. Sharps containers then act as a way to dispose of any residue from the destruction of needles, according to South African National Standards (SANS) 10248.
No amendments have been made to the Waste Management Act despite the pandemic, but Tootla said the company has updated “acceptance and transporting procedures and equipment”, to minimise risk.
Tootla is confident that the country has the capacity to manage Covid-19 waste.
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