As the COVID-19 pandemic rolls on, the need for guidance and methods for proper protective personal equipment (PPE) disposal is increasingly felt — along with solutions to tackle the sheer volume of waste.
The World Economic Forum recently declared that, “Coronavirus waste has become a new form of pollution.” Case in point: a University College London study estimates that in the UK alone, if every person used a single-use face mask a day for a year, it would create an additional 66,000 tons of contaminated waste and 57,000 tons of plastic packaging”—none of which is recyclable and some of which is ending up in sewer systems and waterways. And when you consider these types of volumes all around the world, the problem quickly becomes overwhelming.
We asked a leading provider of KN95 face masks about the sheer volume of PPE being ordered now compared to March and April. Bill Taubner, President of Ball Chain Manufacturing Co,. and runs BonaFide Masks with his brother and company EVP, Jim Taubner, said that, “The need for face masks is not going away any time soon. We're seeing that cities, schools and healthcare providers need quality PPE now as the country opens back up. Until a proven vaccine is widely tested and used, face mask wearing will continue to be part of our everyday life." In a recent statement, CDC director Robert Redfield echoed these assessments. He noted that, “Face masks…are the most important powerful public health tool we have; our best defense.” So, what can be done about the waste problem that comes with them?
Waste haulers can remind customers that PPE is not recyclable and that it should be disposed of with regular garbage, in a tied bag. For medical waste collectors, most are treating COVID-19 waste the same as any other Category B waste. And Bloomberg Law reports that medical waste management “in light of COVID-19 has remained largely unchanged at the federal level, with additional flexibilities across many states.”
We recently chatted with Selin Hoboy, Vice President, Government Affairs and Compliance at Stericycle, who told us: “The new normal may include additional protections for employees, customers or vendors. It will be important to identify what that will include, such as face coverings, masks, gloves, etc., especially based on the type of industry you are in or services you provide.” She advises stakeholders to “review your state guidance, as some states are getting more specific depending on the industry generating the PPE. And, out of an abundance of caution, some businesses are looking at alternate PPE collection and disposal options, such as routing it to a medical waste company rather than in their general trash.”
As Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment noted to CNN: "The PPE is intended to help us fight a public health challenge, not create a plastic pollution problem.”
For more CDC guidance on What Waste Collectors and Recyclers Need to Know about COVID-19 visit here.