Globally, the past few months have witnessed a surge in the use of the diverse forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Production and consumption of surgical face masks, hand gloves, hand sanitizers and other PPE have increased drastically. It is now mandatory to use a face mask in public in many cities and communities. We are using 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves every month globally, according to some estimates.
This rapid and increased use of PPE also implies a significant rise in the production of coronavirus waste. We now have millions of people using and disposing 1 to 2 face masks every single day. However, the waste management systems in many countries have not adapted or grown quickly enough to be able to collect and manage this volume and type of waste. Also, public education on proper disposal of these PPE is grossly inadequate in many places.
Here are some practical ways to properly dispose your coronavirus waste:
- When removing mask from face, be gentle so as to not disturb liquid and solid contaminants on the mask
- Remove the mask by using the appropriate technique i.e. do so from behind and do not touch the front of the mask.
- Place used mask, gloves and tissue in a plastic bag – like a grocery shopping bag or a zip lock bag
- Secure bag tightly
- Place plastic bag into the garbage can or waste disposal unit
- If you do not have access to medical waste containers, ensure you use waste containers with secure lids and covers only
- Wash hands immediately after disposing of your mask
- Never put on a new face mask until you have properly washed your hands
- Keep children and pets away from garbage cans and waste disposal units
- Do not share or re-use single-use masks
Below are some additional tips when using and handling PPE:
- place mask carefully to cover mouth and nose and tie securely to minimise any gaps between the face and the mask
- while in use, avoid touching the mask
- replace masks with a new clean, dry mask as soon as they become damp/humid
- discard single-use masks after each use and dispose of them immediately upon removal.
- after removal or whenever you inadvertently touch a used mask, clean hands by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water if visibly soiled
- Minimise contact with coronavirus waste, i.e. handle materials as little as possible and dispose them in a manner that minimises exposure to others
- Never over fill garbage cans or waste disposal units
- Dismantle or destroy PPE properly before disposal so that someone doesn’t try to continue to use them. Using outdated, damaged or discarded personal protection equipment can cause people serious harm and put them at major risk for injury.
- Non-health workers use double-layer cloth masks or substitutes like bandanas and scarfs. This will also reduce pressure on surgical masks and make them available for health workers who need them most
- Reusable masks should be washed daily after each use and sun dried or ironed.
While we keep ourselves healthy and free from coronavirus, let′s ensure that we do the same for others through the proper use of PPE and disposal of coronavirus waste. We must also ensure that we do not pollute the environment through improper disposal of the fast-growing coronavirus waste.
Stay safe, stay healthy & stay green!
- WHO Advice on the use of masks in the community, during home care and in health care settings in the context of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak
- Disposing of PPE Waste Correctly & Safely
- The new plastic bottle? How to dispose of face masks in an environmentally-safe way
- What is the proper way to dispose of PPE?
- How to Properly Dispose of a Face Mask