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OP-ED: What to do with all this waste?

  • Published at 02:14 pm June 28th, 2020
A tough place to be MEHEDI HASAN

Is incineration the only viable option?

Fllowed by the recent arrangement of serving the legal notice on issuing directives regarding the Covid-19 medical waste, Bangladesh has lately put forth its attention in handling the additional amount of hazardous waste generated throughout this pandemic. 

However, on the matter of dealing with the generated medical waste as well as household hazardous waste, it is a matter of grave challenge despite being a matter of ease. It has now become a very common scenario to see used face masks, hand gloves, and white gowns dumped here and there. 

Health care facilities are not exempted from having such behaviour while the disposal of used PPEs is seen in the garbage containers. These affairs are evident enough to portray the level of unawareness about hazardous waste management, a vital affair associated with the pandemic. 

As the situation has mandated people as well as the most infected persons to stay at home, the amount of generated household hazardous waste has upsurged, and researches revealed that an amount of 3.40kg of additional hazardous waste can be expected on a daily basis from each infected person, estimated by Asian Development Bank (ABD) based on China’s experience. 

However, Advocate Md JR Khan Robin, who initiated the legal notice on managing hazardous waste, declared that approximately 1,500 tons of medical waste have been generated over this period in Bangladesh. 

On referring to the amount of hazardous waste, China and other countries have seen a massive increment in the hazardous waste generation (about 600% increase in Hubei province) and while dealing with this sudden increase in waste amount, the conventional incineration facilities have been outstripped and the waste management industry is facing immense pressure over handling this hazardous waste. 

Based on this practical situation reported from these countries, the questions arise: “How are we going to handle the additional amount of hazardous waste generated from households or health care facilities? Are we equipped with proper incineration facilities or other relevant techniques to take care of this infectious waste?” 

Waste management in our region has received less attention over the years and the only functioning disposal of waste for us has been “open dumping,” regardless of the type of waste. 

Being contagious in nature, Covid-19 has the potential of further transmission through additional carriers, and waste collectors and people living next to these open dumping zones are several of them. 

The only way of dealing with this Covid-19 related waste is through the incineration process, the thermal treatment of waste with more than 850C. Unfortunately, we are not in a position of dealing with such treatment for the waste as there is no central, controlled incineration facilities for the waste management industry in this country and waste management is done by the informal sector.

Study findings show that in some provinces of China it is advocated to use cement kilns and other industrial furnaces as the alternate way for the burning of hazardous waste. It is possible to attain the desired temperature in such controlled facilities. 

In view of that, given of our condition, we have a number of cement industries, and in this dire situation, we can think of using their controlled furnaces to do away with this hazardous waste. 

Also the “brick kilns” can serve as potential incinerator facilities as they can attain the high level of temperature with pollutant trapping techniques. As the majority of brick kilns are located within the verge of Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur, and Chittagong, and so are the Covid-19 patients, brick kilns can be regarded as “blind man’s stuff” for the infected cities’ waste disposal system. 

However, potential challenges will be to transport the infected materials to the brick kilns and disposal of after burnt residuals in the controlled landfill zones. As a safe disposal method, incineration is the only viable option while dealing with the final disposal of Covid-19 waste. 

In the given circumstances and with numerous challenges of waste management, concerned authorities should look to surrogate options (industrial furnaces, cement, and brick kilns) that will settle the challenges with Covid-19 hazardous waste and further transmission of this disease through possible carriers to the community.

Md Sazzadul Haque is an environmental thinker and academic researcher. He can be reached at [email protected]  

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