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Does Covid related waste pose a Health Risk?

By Harshi Abayawardhana – Centre for Environmental Justice

Currently, Sri Lanka is experiencing a critical stage in relation to Covid 19 pandemic. There has been an increased demand and utilization for PPEs such as medical/surgical masks, face shields, gloves and other personal protective equipment. Consequently, the measures and strategies to mitigate the effects of the pandemic that are treatment, management, and prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 virus, involves increasing waste accumulation. In these circumstances, COVID 19 causes an increase in waste generation. There is no doubt that its impact on waste management has become a significant cause of concern to Sri Lanka.

CEJ, together with Health Care Without Harm South East Asia (HCWH SE Asia) and The Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) Coalition conducted Plastic Waste Audits to gather information on the types of health care waste generated, to understand and analyze how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the volume and characteristics of waste generated in the identified locations. During this, we realized that most people are unaware of the proper management of covid related waste and the health risks associated with that. It is essential for the public to be well aware of these guidelines in order to practice them correctly.

In order to aware general public on this regard, CEJ organized a webinar on Covid Waste & Related Health Risks on Thursday 21st October via ZOOM, in line with the south Asian regional campaign in BFFP AP and HCWH SE Asia coordinated Action Project (CAP)

Dr. Inoka Suraweera, Consultant Community Physician, Environmental and Occupational Health Directorate, Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka and ENG. J.M.U. Indrarathne, Deputy Director General, Waste Management Division, Central Environment Authority participated at the webinar as resource persons. Representatives of the Divisional secretariat, Kolonnawa, and Divisional secretariat, Kaduwela, Preschool teachers, and a number of CSO members participated at this event. 90 participants joined via zoom and another 50 people reached out via facebook live streaming.

At the webinar, Mr. Dilena Pathragoda, Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice spoke about covid waste audit project and purpose of the webinar campaign, Dr. Inoka Suraweera, spoke on “How improper management of Covid related waste can induce spread of the disease” and ENG. J.M.U. Indrarathne spoke on “Proper management of Covid related waste”
Dr. Inoka Suraweera, explained about covid related waste, transmission of the disease with covid waste, and health/social/economic impacts of the covid waste. She said that “masks, plastic covid waste burning may tend to release POPs and increase air pollution, eventually it may cause health effects. Covid related Organic waste such as food waste are currently incinerated, and it may cause to increase carbon dioxide gas and even contribute to climate change”

ENG. J.M.U. Indrarathne spoke about guidelines of the proper covid waste management at the local authority, the institution/offices and household levels. He also spoke about the responsibilities of the public as well as the local authorities in proper management of the covid related waste. In response to questions from the audience, he said that he will pay attention to developing a proper disposal system for empty sanitizer containers. 
Participants praised CEJ for organizing an important and useful webinar.

Chandana Sesath Jayakody

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