While most people might not give a thought to waste during a pandemic like COVID-19, waste management is a critical service that has to be operating on a daily basis. If the waste generated by various sectors is not collected if the waste generated by various sectors is not collected regularly, it could lead to the spread of various diseases only adding to the woes. With the lockdown coming into effect waste management services are among the businesses designated as essential as the concerned companies strive to serve the community during the outbreak. The basic waste handling procedures might not have changed, but there is increasing focus on cleanliness and hygiene. Respective government and private entities continue to collect waste from residences, businesses, hospitals and public areas, and have increased efforts to continuously clean and sterilize the equipment and all public spaces in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus that is having an unprecedented impact on our lives at present.
This pandemic has also brought in various operational challenges to municipal solid waste management in terms of procedures and best practices. Different solutions have been implemented in relevant regions and this article touches upon the systems and procedures being adapted by some local authorities and private companies in effectively dealing with the outdoor cleaning and waste management operations.
As part of its efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus UAE has launched various initiatives and the Dubai Municipality started a major sterilisation campaign on March 21 in an operation that covers at least 95 roads across the city. As everyone is by now aware, the intensive disinfection drive has been covering the city’s major roads and the densely populated streets and interior lanes in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus. The municipality has been using the latest technology during the sterilisation drive. They have also directed residents to stay away from the streets while they are doing the disinfection. Authorities have assured the residents that the UAE has a comprehensive health system to protect people and contain the virus, and they have also been urging residents to observe proper hygiene and practice social distancing to avoid contracting the disease. The UAE including Dubai has restricted the movement of people from 8pm to 6am as well. Dubai has announced that it has further extended the sterilisation campaign to 24 hours for two weeks starting April 4; and stringent action would be taken against violators, said Dubai Media Office on Instagram.
Since the outbreak, Bee’ah has taken all precautionary measures based on the guidelines of UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention and local authorities. “Our utmost priority remains the health and safety of the communities we serve and our employees. We have formulated a Business Continuity Plan, and all operations have continued uninterrupted. Bee’ah has also formed a COVID-19 Emergency Task Force, comprising key personnel from each department to deal with any potential emergencies, mitigate risks and ensure the rapid dissemination of updates to all employees and customers,” says Khaled Al Huraimel, Group CEO of Bee’ah.
The company has been carrying out daily disinfection of all public and residential bins, public areas such as playgrounds, etc., and increased the frequency of waste collection, disinfection and sanitisation of bins, vehicles and cleaning equipment. Bee’ah’s workers have also undergone hygiene and sanitisation training, and to meet the growing demand for professional disinfection, Al Huraimel says they have launched a specialist disinfection service for government entities and large organisations.
As a society, with this type of unprecedented global pandemic we are all going through unchartered waters and as a major player in waste management they are following the government directions to the T to ensure their staff, workers, employees and the community they serve are safe, states Madhumohan S., Chief Innovation Officer at Dulsco. “We are closely coordinating with municipality and other regulatory authorities to ensure we are ready to support in all areas of waste management and also proactively involve in all cleaning and disinfection activities,” he comments. They are also ensuring their workforce and staff are fully aware of all regulations, hygiene standards and protocols they have set up to ensure a safe working environment for the employees and the community.
Safety measures and best practices
Bee’ah has significantly raised sanitisation levels of operations, disinfecting all equipment and facilities, and mandating hygienic practices among the workers, says the Group CEO. All vehicles and assets are sanitised daily, and drivers have been given the responsibility to ensure all common touchpoints are cleaned with alcohol-based disinfectants. “For all employees who need to be physically present at the workplace, a digitalised remote working arrangement is in place, with all the tools required to continue discussions, meetings and collaboration, in line with social distancing requirements,” he notes.
To safeguard the physical and the mental health of their employees, they have introduced safety measures such as mandatory health and temperature checks for all staff entering or exiting the facilities including workers’ accommodation areas, Al Huraimel underscores. “We have also prepared quarantine and isolation rooms in each accommodation camp for workers displaying flu-like symptoms or those who have returned from overseas. Undergoing quarantine and isolation can be a lonely and taxing process. The isolation rooms are equipped with all amenities to stay comfortable, including entertainment such as television and iPads.”
“The safety of our personnel is key, therefore all the best practises advised by WHO and local authorities are being implemented through a special task force created with senior management and HSE leaders,” says Madhumohan, also stating that Dulsco is fully prepared and special stand-by isolation facilities are equipped with quarantine arrangements to tackle any emergency among employees and staff in all their accommodation and camps. Other measures taken include mandated temperature checks for employees at entry and exit points at all facilities; sanitization of their transportation buses after every shift; sanitisation of office daily; holding major meetings through software like Microsoft teams. Further, all employees handling waste are equipped with PPE including gloves and safety glasses.
“In terms of supporting the municipalities and authorities in sanitization we are arranging for bulk spray of specific USEPA and CDC approved disinfectant with virucidal properties specifically approved for COVID-19 through specially designed tankers with mist sprays and hand-held mist sprays with our trained manpower who would undertake such operations,” he remarks.
In Jordan, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Jordan is working with its partners to combat the spread of the coronavirus and to support the country’s health systems. UNDP has embarked on a new project to vastly improve medical waste management in several Jordanian healthcare facilities by introducing new medical waste disposal technologies, according to a UNDP press release. The project has installed seven medical waste sterilization devices, known as autoclaves which sterilize medical waste before it goes to municipal dumping sites. UNDP said it has also provided 14 hospitals with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other necessary material to improve healthcare waste disposal.
“Amidst the outbreak of coronavirus, our support today comes to strengthen Jordan’s waste management, including medical waste treatment and disposal,” said, UNDP Resident Representative, Sara Ferrer Olivella. “Safe and effective treatment of hazardous medical waste using latest technologies will save the lives of hospital patients, health workers, and the general public” she added. Prior to this project, medical waste was sterilized by old incineration devices, which are not within the environmental performance standards.
Four more sterilization units will be installed in public and military hospitals as part of the project, currently being implemented by Jordan’s Ministry of Environment and UNDP Jordan. This project provided technical support to hospitals with waste minimisation, recycling, handling, storage, transportation, treatment and disposal options, and training for staff.
South Africa has also been affected by the coronavirus and Averda which is operating across regions, has been highlighting the company’s efforts in managing waste including medical waste. Quarantining is an important public health tool being used by governments around the world including South Africa to slow down the transmission of the disease. While in other countries, suspected and confirmed patients are quarantined at home, in South Africa patients are cared for in dedicated health facilities, according to the news release.
A vast amount of medical equipment and materials are used in caring for these patients and this material cannot be simply disposed of in the nearest dump. Thashnee Budram from Averda describes the steps taken to manage the hazardous medical waste resulting from the Covid-19 quarantines. The hospitals will consult with waste management experts like the company to ensure their internal safe operating procedures (SOPs) are sufficiently up to date and applicable to the risk at hand. This kind of high-risk waste should be packaged in multiple layers of thick plastic and boxes, and sterilised twice during the process. Assigned vehicles will then transport it to one of eight hazardous waste sites around the country. The company is currently carrying out all the incineration for quarantine sites around South Africa, and the vehicle is tracked by GPS and is not permitted to stop en-route. The receiving team is notified of its arrival in advance and incinerator staff clear the loading bay. Only a small number of specialist staff stay on hand in full personal protective equipment (PPE) suits to unlock and offload the cargo, which is immediately incinerated.