Biomedical waste is a threat to global public environmental health and with 'plastic footprint' becoming larger by the day due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, concerns on plastic waste choking the planet are mounting.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India has been generating nearly 146 tonnes of bio-medical waste every day due to diagnostic activities and treatment of Covid-19 patients. Between June 2020 and May 10, 2021, India produced 45,308 tonnes of Covid-19 biomedical waste. This is in addition to the 615 tonnes of biomedical waste a day being produced before Covid-19, the pollution control board's data showed.
This is an increase of almost 17% in biomedical waste generation solely because of the pandemic.
"There has been a general increase and since it is a crisis situation, we are not thinking of plastic but general prevention. The focus is no longer plastic, so that is a problem," news agency PTI quoted Ravi Agarwal, founder-director of the environmental non-profit Toxics Link, saying.
Agarwal also noted that a lot of biomedical waste like face masks, PPE kits are being generated from normal households and it is also contributing to the problem significantly. "These things are finding their way across ecosystems. A lot of these things like masks can be seen on beaches, in coral reefs etc," he also said.
Apart from Covid-related medical waste, what is also contributing to plastic waste is people using home delivery services for essential and non-essential shopping more than before.
Lack of Covid-waste disposal mechanisms is also a major contributor to the problem.
Under the existing rules by CPCB, biomedical waste is segregated into four categories. While the yellow category is for waste that is classified as "highly infectious" — such as human, animal, anatomical, and soiled — red is for contaminated recyclable waste generated from disposable items like tubing, bottle tubes, syringes.
Sharp objects like needles, syringes with fixed needles are segregated into the white category, and broken or discarded and contaminated glassware, including medicine vials are categorised into the blue category.
However, as the Covid waste is considered potentially infectious, it is tagged yellow and incinerated. "We never know the extent of pollution we are doing... We are converting our land-based pollution to water or air pollution. That's what we end up doing," said Siddharth Singh, deputy programme manager at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), as per PTI.