By now one thing is clear, Covid-19 is a highly infectious disease and that it can spread from person to person. The most non-medical effective way to protect oneself is to follow social distancing and maintain cleanliness around ourselves.
On the medical front, though there has been no proven treatment for it as of yet, doctors are using different existing medicines to treat the disease with a certain level of recovery rate. But besides medication, the other practice they suggest is to use protective equipment like masks, gloves to safeguard oneself, and others from contracting the virus.
With such safety advice and the need of the hour for better public health, the numbers of masks and gloves that are going to be used and later discarded are certainly going to be quite high.
The importance of disposing of used masks
But what to do with discarded masks and gloves? How to dispose of it correctly? Is it OK to just throw them in the garbage bin with all other discarded stuff? Or we need to take specific measures to properly dispose of it.
The answer is, certainly yes. We need to follow government and healthcare professionals backed guidelines when it comes to disposing of the used mask, gloves or anything used in protection against COVID 19.
But before we go further and discuss the right way to dispose of discard protective equipment, let's first see why it is so important to follow the correct procedure when going to dispose of.
Unscientific way of disposal could become a source of infection
We know that coronavirus is a highly stable virus that can stay alive for days depending on where it lands in droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. Usage of masks has been advised for the simple reason that it can limit the outreach of the virus even if an infected person releases viral laden droplets. So on one hand, if the mask is limiting the droplets within its cover, the masks are itself getting contaminated.
And if such contaminated masks are then thrown away with other discarded household stuff or littered on public sideways, it means the virus is left open in the public area. Needless to say that anyone who would come in contact with that mask is certainly going to be infected by the deadly virus.
Sanitation workers at risk
And amongst us, who all have the highest percentage of chance of getting infected by such carelessly discarded but contaminated masks and gloves? The sanitation workers.
Click here for coronavirus related stories
By simple requirements of their job, sanitation workers handle the disposed of materials from our houses, offices, colleges, hospitals, etc. Most of the time, they pick, segregate and dispose of discarded stuff with naked hands and no protective gear of any form.
And as hazardous materials from hospitals, quarantines centres and households are getting mixed up with regular garbage due to low compliance of segregation, cases of infection among sanitation workers have been on the rise.
Rather, going by the news reports, such a possibility of sanitation workers contracting the virus and even losing their lives has turned into reality.
In Delhi, a woman sanitation worker died after she contracted the coronavirus.
However, this was not the lone case. Several of sanitation workers were reported to have tested positive for COVID 19 as a result of their occupation.
Government, Court order PPEs for sanitation workers
Recognising the crucial role they play in keeping our society clean and safe, and the danger they face in doing their duty, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) recommended that sanitation workers be provided with PPEs such as N-95 face masks, gloves, boots, etc.
But let's face reality. Not all the sanitation workers at different places would be able to get PPEs. They would be risking their and their family member's live if they happen to contract the virus doing their job.
How to correctly dispose of used PPEs
It is for this reason that disposing of used masks and gloves in a proper way is crucial.
Disposing of used masks: How to correctly manage your garbage and recycling bins
Waste management experts say that if the equipment used for COVID-19 checks are disposed of unscientifically then they could become a source of infection. They suggest people follow safety protocols before discarding any consumables used for protection against coronavirus.
Use separate packet and bins: All the used masks, gloves should be wrapped in the newspaper several times and put in a separate bin.
If there is any COVID 19 patient in your house then all the discarded "disinfectant consumables" like wipes, rags, disinfectant containers, discarded sheets, etc. should be wrapped in newspaper and put in a yellow bag provided by bio-waste management firms or municipalities. The same should be then handed over to authorised waste collectors approved by the local municipality.
Do not litter in public areas: Any used masks, gloves and other related equipment should not be disposed of in public places. Always carry a bag or a container with you where you can put your contaminated PPE if there isn't any suitable trash can nearby. Then put it in your garbage bin.
It is important to remember that all the equipment like masks, gloves, syringes, bandages should be considered infected and need to be autoclaved and mutilated to prevent being used again.
One of the important and easiest ways to disinfect consumables used for COVID 19 is by using ordinary bleach solution (5%) or sodium hypochlorite solution (1%) and then disposed of.