Medical waste from COVID-19 could cause long-term harm to public health, experts say

Public health experts are raising concerns over medical waste generated by COVID-19 prevention and treatment, warning the waste could have long-term public health consequences, the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press reported April 8. 

Tanveer Adyel, PhD, an adjunct lecturer at Monash University in Australia, published a warning last fall in Science magazine that the U.S. could generate an entire year's worth of medical waste in two months, the Burlington Free Press reported.  

While data is limited in the U.S., a July 2020 study showed the city of Wuhan in China, where the coronavirus was first discovered, generated close to 247 tons of medical waste per day at the peak of the pandemic, almost six times more than before the virus. 

Things such as testing swabs, PPE and vaccines all contribute to medical waste. Since the start of the pandemic in the U.S., more than 390 million COVID-19 tests have been given, which translates to 390 million swabs plus their packaging, the Burlington Free Press reported. 

The World Health Organization previously projected a monthly global expenditure of 1.6 million plastic protective goggles, 76 million plastic exam masks and 89 million plastic medical masks, according to the Burlington Free Press

In the more than 6,000 hospitals in the U.S., workers have gone through multiple masks, gloves and gowns daily. Each vaccine also comes with a needle, syringe and packaging that have to be discarded. 

The waste typically ends up in landfills, which are major producers of greenhouse gases and air pollution. Healthcare facilities were already generating about 6,600 metric tons of medical waste per year before the pandemic, and they are the second-largest contributor to landfill waste, according to the Burlington Free Press. Medical waste also produced 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants known to negatively affect people's health. 

Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston is leading a study looking at switching the hospital from single-use disposable items to reusable items and improving the sorting of waste, the Burlington Free Press reported. 

Read the full article here.


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