While COVID-19’s resulting global lockdown has reduced harmful environmental impacts, the trend towards panic-buying has placed a heavy burden on waste management’s shoulders. Waste management is critical to maintaining public health and supporting development, especially during times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The waste management system ensures proper disposal of potential contaminant build-up, helping to ease the pandemic’s spread and reduce exposure to wide-spread health risks. However, due to the massive lockdown mandates, waste production has increased immensely, coinciding with specific product influxes such as toilet paper, disposable gloves and masks, and household cleaning products. Because of the large waste quantities, disposal has led to uncontrolled dumping and burning. This ill-advised practice not only increases the toll on waste management; it also does not adhere to correct World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, which means the potential for spreading the virus increases. Uncontrolled dumping and burning, especially of household cleaning products, adversely impacts the environment with dangerous pollutants and chemical transmissions.
Waste management has also faced the issue that the virus can transmit through human-produced waste. Waste such as feces moves through the sewage system and into corresponding sewage treatment plants. Controlling these transmissions requires advanced technology that waste management cannot handle with their current equipment.
If waste management facilities and systems don’t have them in place already, they must implement sustainable practices to reduce environmental impact. They must also eliminate transmission possibilities concerning COVID-19, maintaining positive social and economic impacts. This can be aided by the use of sewer cameras, which are borescope inspection systems that can be controlled remotely and adapted by varying the tube lengths. This will allow workers to monitor the sewage system without putting themselves at risk, informing the best practices for improving the system.
One way that waste management systems can implement sustainability to protect the environment and properly dispose of contaminated waste is to turn to innovative technologies such as segregation, mechanical, and energy technologies. Some waste management facilities have employed segregation technologies that automatically segregate the different waste products for correct disposal. Segregation technology allows waste management to not only separate which products will cause environmental harm if ill-processed, but might also separate potential contaminants within the common residential waste.
Mechanical waste management technologies help to break down waste in an environmentally friendly way, including composting and aerobic digestion. Energy waste management technologies, such as gasification and incineration, convert waste into heat or gas. These technologies simultaneously minimize the hazardous effects on the environment.
While the pandemic has hit waste management systems hard, it has also proved the industry to be a resilient force, able to adapt during trying times. The solution to the waste management problem concerning COVID-19 transmission and environmental impacts is far from over, but the industry’s consensus has been to innovate new ideas and implement new technologies to ease the burden and create a safer world.