Huge volumes of Covid hospital waste threaten health and environment

Discarded syringes, used test kits and old vaccine vials from the COVID-19 pandemic have piled up to create tens of thousands of tons of medical wastethreatening human health and the environment, according to a World Health Organization report on Tuesday.

The material potentially exposes health care workers to burns, needle stick injuries and pathogenic germs, according to the report.

“We have seen that COVID-19 has increased health care waste loads in facilities up to 10 times,” WHO technical lead Maggie Montgomery told Geneva-based reporters.

She said the biggest risk to affected communities was air pollution caused by burning waste at insufficiently high temperatures resulting in the release of carcinogenic substances.

The report calls for reforms and investment, including through reducing the use of packaging that has sparked a plastic rush spe/special-report-plastic -pandemic-covid-19-trashed-the-recycling-dream-idUSKBN26Q1LO and the use of protective equipment made from reusable and recyclable materials.

The WHO report estimates that some 87,000 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE), equivalent to the weight of several hundred blue whales, have been ordered through a UN portal up to November 2021 – most of which would have ended up waste.

The report also mentions some 140 million test kits that could generate 2,600 tons of mostly plastic waste and enough chemicals. waste to fill a third of an Olympic swimming pool.

In addition, he estimates that some 8 billion doses of vaccine administered worldwide produced an additional 144,000 tonnes of waste in the form of glass vials, syringes, needles and safety boxes.


Montgomery said a misperception of COVID-19 infection rates from surfaces was to blame for what she called the “overuse” of protective gear, particularly gloves.

“We’ve all seen pictures of moonsuits, we’ve all seen pictures of people vaccinating with gloves on,” she said. “Certainly in all areas… people are wearing excessive PPE,” she added.

The WHO report did not cite specific examples of where the most flagrant accumulations have occurred, but referred to challenges such as the limited number waste treatment and disposal in rural India as well as large volumes of faecal sludge from quarantine facilities in Madagascar.

Even before the pandemic, about a third of health facilities were not equipped to handle waste charges, the WHO said. This reached 60% in poor countries, he said.