About 93.4% of Covid-19 related waste generated by households and healthcare facilities in the country remain unmanaged, posing a severe threat to the environment as well as public health, according to a study by Brac.
The use of facemasks and other protective gear has gone up in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Apart from hospitals and other healthcare facilities, households too are now generating medical waste.
However, a proper disposal of such wastes has not been possible because of a weak waste management system being in place.
"Only a handful of organisations are working on medical waste management. They collect waste from healthcare facilities and cover only five districts.
"Besides, only one treatment plant has been set up in the capital," said Dr Md Mostafizur Rahman, who teaches environment sciences at Jahangirnagar University, while presenting the study findings at a webinar organised yesterday by Brac Climate Change Programme.
More than 4,600 general people and 300 healthcare professionals were interviewed during the survey. Those involved in waste management were also conversed with in order to understand the gravity of the waste problem.
Healthcare professionals said the absence of proper management and disposal has become an obstacle to best practices in relation to protective gear.
Only 43.6% of them were aware of the Bangladesh Medical Waste Management Rule 2008. They consider medical waste management an additional workload and financial burden.
And over 90% of healthcare providers think an integrated and inclusive waste management plan is imperative to establishing a proper disposal mechanism in the country.
According to the World Economic Forum, global mask sales are up by 20,000% due to the pandemic and 75% of the masks could end up in the landfill and the sea, giving rise to environmental pollution.
In Bangladesh, about 530 tonnes of medical waste are generated from households and healthcare facilities every day, which can inflict damage to public health and the environment. Only 14% of the waste generated at healthcare facilities undergo treatment and the rest is dumped into the environment.
However, the Covid-19-related waste generated at households is not segregated at all, causing it to get mixed up with municipal waste, according to the Brac study, entitled "Effective Management of Medical Waste amid Covid-19 Pandemic".
Air Commodore Md Badrul Amin, chief waste management officer of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), said the city corporations, which deal with household waste, could not ensure a segregation of medical waste from general waste owing to the lack of a modern waste management system.
Awareness building is necessary, but as experts said on Monday, it takes time to transform knowledge into a habit.
People here tend to overlook the hazardous impacts of infectious waste, even if they know about the risks, they added.
Brac Chairperson Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, who chaired the webinar, stressed the need for a low-cost but effective solution to the medical waste management problem.
"Globally, waste management is a continuous process of innovation," he said, adding that the government, civil society, and NGOs like Brac could work together to raise awareness, forge coordination between different stakeholders and build capacity.
"Waste as a whole has become a challenge with the elevation of the country's economic status, said Md Tajul Islam, Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives, who was present at the event as the chief guest.
Increasing consumption has led to an increase in waste, while haphazard dumping of non-biodegradable waste resulted in the pollution of rivers, canals and other water bodies.
Since segregation at source has been quite challenging, he said, he had recently proposed a mechanism to generate electricity from mixed waste, which he saw in practice in countries like Singapore and Thailand.
Foreign investors should be invited to make that happen as there is no expert here and the government will purchase power from them, the minister argued.
Beyond and above all these, experts said a new law should be enacted and a strategy formulated to deal with the menace of waste.