As our CE, Janine Brinsdon, heads into discussions on what messages we should be giving New Zealanders about tackling waste during the Level 4 lockdown, the good people of Smart Environmental have been researching the impact of Covid-19 on rubbish and recycling collections around the world.
New Zealand’s largest privately-owned waste and recycling company has found that some of the major impact on collections has been due to reduced staff numbers rather than contamination of bags and bins.
Some other key findings are:
Practices from around the world:
There was little information to be found about changes to collections in China, but elsewhere, COVID-19 waste practices have quickly been established.
From 23 March 2020, citizens have been asked to leave their bins and containers in a visible spot for a one-time sanitation exercise. Staff from the local waste management company will disinfect and wash all the residual waste containers, according to a defined schedule.
According to the National Institute of Public Health, all personal waste from a person in isolation (including masks and tissues) should be stored in a disposable plastic rubbish bag and tied firmly after filling. This should then be placed in a second bag and tied before going into a waste container.
The Finnish Institute for Occupational Health has instructed waste management companies and their staff and domestic households on preventive measures to stop the spread of COVID-19:
The health authorities class the transmission risk in the context of waste collection and disposal as low, based on previous knowledge of the virus. The Federal Environment Agency has confirmed that new type of coronavirus (SARSCoV-2) is safely destroyed at the minimum combustion temperatures prescribed for the incineration of municipal waste.
They therefore recommend that the usual hygienic precautionary measures for collecting and disposing of municipal waste be observed when handling waste from quarantined households. Contaminated waste should be collected together with residual waste, and is not thermally treated in mechanical-biological waste treatment plants.
Since the transmission of viruses has not yet been finally clarified, however, the main risk is to occupational health and safety, so PPE for waste collection staff is vital.
Public Health England recommends that all waste that has been in contact with any self-isolated individual should be double-bagged and tied to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The waste should not be disposed of or put out for collection until it’s certain that the individual does not have Covid-19. Once they’ve tested negative, it can then be put in with the normal waste.
If the test is positive, waste must be stored for at least 72 hours, and then placed in the normal waste.
Personal waste (such as used tissues) and disposable cleaning cloths should be stored securely in disposable rubbish bags. These should be placed into another bag, tied securely, kept separate from other waste and put aside for at least 72 hours before being put in the usual external household waste bin.
The Government Health Agency also warned that waste should only be collected by authorised personnel.
The North Lanarkshire Council’s Waste Solutions service prepared for the impact of coronavirus by assuming a 35% reduction in staff over a period of 6 weeks. “Although we are currently not experiencing any problems, if we do encounter workforce issues there will be a priority-based approach based on public health, with ‘1’ being the highest priority.”
The Italian Health Organization and the Health Ministry distinguish between two main categories of municipal waste streams generated by households:
Typology 1 – Municipal waste generated by households with COVID19 positive people in isolation or people in mandatory quarantine.
This is classified as infectious medical waste (hazardous), and requires operations run by specialised companies, collection using standardised bags, sterilisation, specialised treatment plants, etc. The procedures for safe municipal waste management are:
If the person in isolation/quarantine is unable to put out the waste for the collection service, the local authority must set up a specific service with specialised staff.
Typology 2 – municipal waste generated by households without COVID19 positive people in isolation or people in mandatory quarantine
This waste must comply with whatever collection system is in place. Tissues, masks, single-use gloves go into the residual waste stream in double bags closed with string or adhesive tape.
Waste collection staff are highly recommended to comply with Health Ministry rules, wear PPE, clean PPE and overalls regularly, replace single-use gloves if there is a risk of contamination, and sanitise vehicle cabins.
No extra precautions are being taken. The message is to follow “normal procedure” – ie only waste that was considered contagious before the virus should be considered contagious now. All other waste, including from hospitals, is put in ordinary bags and into the usual mixed waste.
SNAGA has introduced some safety measures – for instance, several though not all collection centres are closed and the collection of hazardous and small electronic waste via mobile collection units has been cancelled. However, no special measures have been taken yet regarding potentially infected waste from households.
Management of the waste in the home: Tissues, masks, PPE and other waste related to COVID-19 patients or quarantine houses must be deposited in a plastic bag in a bin in the room, preferably one with a lid and an opening pedal. Masks and glasses should be removed outside the patient’s room and put in a plastic bag in a separate container. The bag from the room should go in the bag with the masks (bag 2), and all bags must be hermetically sealed and closed before being removed from the room.
Management of the patient waste bag: After being kept in a safe place for 7 hours, Bag 2 must be deposited in residual waste. Putting this in any of the specific bins for organic, packaging, paper, glass or textiles is strictly prohibited. This waste will go directly to landfill or incineration with no manual intervention, if possible.
For the duration of the crisis, specific collections of type 2 bags may be established for places with a high level of COVID19 infection such as hospitalised hotels. The bags need to be easily identifiable using insulating tape or similar and deposited according to the guidelines from waste collectors.
For staff in both the waste collection teams and the plants where bags are received, PPE will be provided and specific protocols for the protection of workers developed or reviewed.
According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), no special precautions are necessary for COVID-19 and waste from households is to be managed as it would be typically for the flu. The vast majority of municipalities have made no changes to recycling services, but most states have been impacted by reduced staffing numbers and some have closed their drop-off centres.
The final analysis
Some actions are being carried out by many countries; where they are, those messages are clear. Double-bag contaminated waste. Tie it, distinctively. Keep it safe for at least 72 hours before putting it out (usually in general waste), for your waste collection service to pick up using appropriate PPE.
There is not, however, a singular solution. New Zealand is still working through its approach to waste. Once approved by the DIA and Ministry of Health, the guidelines will be posted on www.covid19.govt.nz. Watch this space.