The covid-19 pandemic threatens to create large amounts of new waste, particularly for resource managers at organizations that aren’t in the healthcare sector.

Manufacturers, businesses, governments, schools, universities and others that don’t normally deal with potentially infectious waste may be unsure how to respond safely and responsibly.

As the novel coronavirus continued spreading, Environment + Energy Leader asked Wade Scheel, director of government affairs for the environmental and regulated waste management solutions company Stericycle, for insights. Here’s what he said:

What new kinds of waste is covid-19 creating for organizations that are outside the health sector?

Primarily, organizations that are not in the health sector are likely to see large amounts of waste created from the decontamination of surfaces and facilities. For example, disposable disinfecting wipes, empty disinfectant containers, rags, paper towels, mop heads, and personal protective equipment such as masks or gloves.

These organizations may also need to handle the disposal of leftover decontamination chemicals. During these unprecedented times, there may be a tendency to over-decontaminate and disinfect. However, the CDC recommends standard cleaning practices at this time, including routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces in the workplace with cleaning agents usually used for these areas.

Any common misconceptions around that waste?

Not all waste generated from decontamination and disinfection of work surfaces and facilities must be managed as regulated medical waste.

Although the tendency will be to want to manage all decontamination-related waste as infectious waste, it’s not necessary. Per CDC recommendations, organizations should use standard protocols for managing all types of waste. For example, categories such as laundry and food service utensils should be managed with routine procedures.

State health and environmental agencies are beginning to publish guidance for proper waste handling and waste management during the pandemic, and some states have determined that the only waste that should be managed as regulated medical waste is the waste resulting from the treatment of — or coming into direct contact with — a patient known to have covid-19.

What best practices should organizations adopt around waste produced during the pandemic?

Organizations in all industries should continue to monitor and follow CDC recommendations and protocols on waste handling and disposal. Additionally, provide staff with training on proper protocols to minimize unnecessary regulated medical waste generation and prevent exposure to covid-19.

Anything else to keep in mind?

There are a variety of resources that organizations and sustainability leaders can monitor to find updated information. A few of these resources include the CDC website, the World Health Organization, and state websites.

Guidance for businesses dealing with the current pandemic is rapidly changing. Staying connected to these resources is the best way to stay up-to-date.  



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