Tens of thousands of tonnes of medical waste generated during the pandemic potentially threaten human health and the environment, according to a WHO report released February 1.
Commenting on the situation, Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, noted that, on the one hand, medical professionals need to be provided with personal protective equipment, but, on the other hand, “it is necessary to make sure that these tools can be used safely without harming the environment.”
According to the WHO, from March 2020 to November 2021, about 87,000 tons of personal protective equipment was purchased under the UN joint emergency initiative to help countries fight the coronavirus. Most of these items are expected to have been used and become waste. The authors of the report emphasize that they did not take into account items purchased outside the UN initiative, as well as disposable masks that were purchased and discarded by individuals.
In addition, about 140 million COVID-19 test kits were purchased worldwide over the study period, which could turn into 2,600 tons of non-infectious waste and 732,000 liters of chemical waste. The 8 billion doses of vaccines distributed worldwide could result in 144 tons of additional waste: used needles, syringes and containers. At the same time, about 30% of medical facilities currently do not have the equipment to handle standard medical waste, not to mention the additional waste associated with COVID-19, the WHO noted.
The authors of the report recommend the use of environmentally friendly packaging and delivery methods, safe and reusable personal protective equipment, recyclable or biodegradable materials and other measures.