Guest opinion: Coronavirus strains medical waste system

Guest opinion: Coronavirus strains medical waste system

While lots of attention surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is on finding amply medical supplies — ventilators, masks, gloves and sterilized hospital gowns — there is growing concern about its impact on the trash collection system.

Can we safely dispose of the surge in infectious wastes from hospitals, first responders and residents?

American hospitals are already generating huge volumes of contaminated trash that needs to be specially treated as the number of COVID-19 infections and related deaths skyrocket. That rapid growth is expected to continue through April.

The coronavirus presents some difficult challenges because it deadly, persistent in air vapor droplets and is longer lasting on door knobs, food and bathroom counters and other surfaces. As we are learning, it can infect people by simply touching their faces. It is spiking the demand for face masks, gloves and sanitary wipes — all of which show up in hospital and household garbage.

Stericycle, one of America’s largest handlers of medical waste processors, says it has seen an influx of masks, gloves and gowns in recent weeks. The company steam-sterilizes infectious trash before it is landfilled or incinerated.

“The U.S. is looking to China, where daily medical-waste volumes jumped six-fold in Wuhan as more people contracted the virus, prompting the government to deploy dozens of portable waste-treatment facilities. Chinese officials recently said medical-waste facilities in 29 cities were at or near full capacity,” Wall Street Journal’s Saabira Chaudhuri wrote.

Waste Dive, the garbage and recycling publication, reported COVID-19 has left the country dealing with mountains of medical waste — much of it has been piled along curbs and roadsides. During the height of the outbreak in Wuhan was dealing with 240 tons of medical waste per day, versus the normal 40 tons.

Safely dealing with medical wastes is not new, particularly in our country; however, volumes are increasing. In 2016, worldwide more than 2 million tons of bio-hazardous waste was created in hospitals, veterinary clinics and homes, MedPro disposal reported. As China has experienced, that volume quickly explodes, often overnight.

“This staggering amount of waste has to go somewhere, and until recently most of it just went into landfills to be hidden and forgotten about,” MedPro reports. Companies have increased their focused on recycling. Pfiedler, a company that specializes in continuing medical education, is hoping to recycle up to 25 percent of surgical waste.

Meanwhile, lots has changed for workers who collect and process our trash. They require the same protective gear as doctors, hospital workers and first responders — all of which is in short supply.

While medical wastes are heavily regulated, the situation surround the COVID-19 virus changes by the hour. Bob Cappadona, Veolia North America’s executive vice president and COO for environmental solutions and services, told Waste Dive his company is currently dealing with the “known and the unknown,” while trying to take precautions to protect our employees.

“The company which operates worldwide, has experience dealing with outbreaks like Ebola, but Cappadona acknowledged the current pandemic is unprecedented in its scope and impacts.”

While hospitals label and safely store their contaminated waste before disposal, household trash is another concern especially with government mandates for people stay at home. While trash collections from business and construction are down, residential garbage has increased.

With restaurants closed to in-house dining and peopled confined to their homes, drive-thru take-out and food delivery services are growing. Correspondingly, so is the accompanying number of disposable food containers which are trashed.

While our garbage problems mount as the pandemic peaks, there are three things people can do now: continue to stay home, make sure garbage bags are tightly tied, and thank the trash collectors too!

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

More in Opinion

Don Brunell
Guest opinion: Coronavirus spurring air cargo growth

It’s no secret that airlines and airplane manufacturers have been clobbered by… Continue reading

Crystal Linn
Aging Successfully: Gratitude, thankfulness and mental health

Have you ever stopped to consider the differences between the words gratitude… Continue reading

Sara Brabant dresses as “Weird Al” Yankovic for Halloween saying “my hair was just right.” She reminds us all to have fun as we can in these weird times. Photo courtesy of Oak Table Cafe
Reporter’s Notebook: Weird, wild and thankfulness

“Well, that’s weird!” Bill said of the funny coincidence. “No, that’s just… Continue reading

Jeremy Field, regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration (courtesy photo)
Guest opinion: Shopping small for 2020 holiday season needed more than ever

It’s no secret that the Coronavirus pandemic has made a huge impact… Continue reading

Guest opinion: A climate changes-based apology

An apology to family and friends: I have been well prepared by… Continue reading

Don Brunell
Guest opinion: Military diversity’s lifeline

Diversity in the ranks has been the lifeline of our all-volunteer military,… Continue reading

USEPA Photo by Eric Vance. Public domain image
Being Frank: A time to remember

This fall marks the 50th anniversary of an event that sparked the… Continue reading

Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.
Guest opinion: Washington needs manufacturing to lead the economic recovery

Kaitlyn Pype wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life,… Continue reading

Guest opinion: Time for our communities to come together

Time for our communities to come together To our communities: We are… Continue reading

Linda B. Myers
From the Back Nine: And the winner is …

This “opinion piece” will run the day after the election; I am… Continue reading

Bertha Cooper
Think About It: ‘Children will listen’

“Careful the things you say. Children will listen.” Some of you will… Continue reading

Letters to the Editor — Oct. 28, 2020

‘Fear-mongering’ flyers defy reality I received a baseless, fear-mongering flier by the… Continue reading