Countless gloves, syringes and vaccine vials have been used as the world continues to fight COVID-19. Now the United Nations’ World Health Organization says there’s another problem resulting from the two-year global pandemic — tons and tons of medical waste has been collected.
The WHO released a report on Tuesday that says that tens of thousands of tons of extra medical waste was created from the overuse of gloves, “moon suits” protective gear, masks and vaccine supplies, The Associated Press reported.
From March 2020 to November 2021, there have been more than 143 tons of extra waste from the 8 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine alone. The waste includes syringes, needles and safety boxes.
It also potentially could include 140 million COVID-19 testing kits that will create 2,600 tons of trash that is mostly plastic and chemicals that could fill a third of an Olympic-sized pool, according to Reuters.
The organization said the extra waste is straining waste management and has now become itself a health issue, as well as an environmental one, Reuters reported.
The report said, according to Reuters, that the extra waste can lead to burns, needle-sticks and exposure to germs that can cause diseases.
It can also lead to air pollution as the medical waste is burned to destroy it. If it is not burned at the correct temperature, it can release carcinogens into the air, Reuters reported.
But there is something that can be done now about the excess waste.
“Part of the message for the public is to become more of a conscious consumer,” Dr. Margaret Montgomery, technical officer of WHO’s water, sanitation, hygiene and health unit, said, according to the AP. “In terms of the volume, it’s enormous.”
Montgomery said people are wearing too much personal protection equipment.
And much of the packaging or even the PPE can’t be recycled.
To make up for some of the waste, the WHO pushed that plastic packaging is reduced and that the gear is made from reusable and recyclable materials, Reuters reported.
Dr. Anne Woolridge from the International Solid Waste Association called for a “safe and rational use” of PPE to not only save the environment but also save costs and prevent shortages, the AP reported.
The WHO is also calling for “non-burn waste treatment,” the AP reported.
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