As lockdowns actually take place to slow the spread of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19), heightened plastic pollution was fueled by personal protective equipment (PPE). In every country, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen more and more individuals admitted to hospitals, where the rate of transmission of the virus is high making personal protective equipment (PPE) a vital tool to shield healthcare staff from the virus.
It is difficult to understand how both the government and private sectors are acting to cope with such rubbish with the immense demand for PPE. Although you may see a few surgical masks or gloves dropped on your footpath, this is where the issue begins.
What is PPE?
Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to something that is used or worn to reduce health and safety risks for staff. This includes, in the form of glasses, goggles or face shields, single-use gloves, aprons and gowns, surgical masks, respirators and face protectors.
PPE should be used to complement the other protection measures placed in effect at your workplace to safeguard against COVID-19, including good hygiene measures, physical distancing, environmental sanitation, and information and training for employees. To defend against COVID-19, you have to introduce more control measures than just PPE.
PPE’s Contribution to Australia’s Waste Problems
Since the onset of COVID-19, people have used approximately 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves per month globally. While these defensive gears prevent the spread of the virus, it is becoming an alarming problem to mismanage discarded PPE. Dumped PPE presents a number of problems, including being a COVID-hazard itself or a source of plastic waste for single use.
In the hospital setting, you can expect normal care and disposal of all PPE as contaminated medical waste. But you can see how most people want to use face coverings and other safety clothing to avoid becoming infected as you go along in your neighbourhood and public places. But it could end up lining the footpath, fluttering in trees or even clogging rivers as individuals continue to dump these things irresponsibly.
But the dangerous part here is that throwing away PPE can become a littered trash carrying coronavirus everywhere. If it is infected with the virus or not, there is no clear sign that improperly discarded masks and PPE are contaminated. The exposure to these discarded PPE, particularly face masks in general locations, supermarkets and other areas, may therefore be the reason for COVID-19 infection.
You may be uncertain about the guidelines for the disposal of your masks and gloves in public settings compared to the specific guidelines for healthcare settings in the disposal of PPE. As such, you have no idea whether or not the discarded personal protective equipment belongs to someone who has a coronavirus. Your family will become a COVID-hazard from such heaps of PPE garbage.
How to Dispose of PPE Properly?
If infected, disposable PPE should ideally be disposed of in a closed bin with the total waste. A closed bin is preferable with a fitted lid to prevent touching infected PPE in the bin. It would be necessary to provide a bin with a foot pedal or another hands-free device to open the door.
To ensure the waste is double bagged, the bin for polluted PPE should contain two bin liners. When a closed bin is not accessible, the infected PPE should be put in a sealed bag before disposal into the bin. Double bagging minimises any contamination to the person disposing of the waste. It is also considered similar to a sealed bag and a single bin liner.
After removing and disposing of your PPE, it is important to pursue good hand hygiene. Hands should be properly washed with water and soap (for a minimum of 20 seconds) or with a hand sanitiser.
If you want access more information about the proper disposal of PPEs, read this article.
Australia’s waste war is a challenging one and will surely intensify because of the disposing of PPE. Time will come for reflection when the pandemic is over; solutions will be explored and improved.
With the increasing amount of waste every year, this means that it is not enough for the workforce to fight and take responsibility for the increasing waste. Let’s not only concentrate on the recovery and infection management of the COVID patient; we also need to resolve the rubbish that the pandemic would leave.
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