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Healthcare waste from COVID threatens environment: WHO

Tens of thousands of tonnes of extra medical waste from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has put tremendous strain on healthcare waste management systems around the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO said on Tuesday.

According to the agency’s Global analysis of healthcare waste in the context of COVID-19: status, impacts and recommendations, the mainly plastic trashthreatens human and environmental health, and exposes a dire need to improve waste management practices.

The sight of discarded masks, littering pavements, beaches and roadsides, has become a universal symbol of the on-going pandemic worldwide.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, the agency’s chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the report “is a reminder that although the pandemic is the most severe health crisis in a century, it is connected with many other challenges that countries face.”

The estimates are based on the approximately 87,000 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE) that was procured between March 2020 and November 2021 and shipped through a joint UN emergency initiative. Most of this equipment is expected to have ended up as waste.

For the agency, this is just an initial indication of the scale of the problem. It does not consider any of the COVID-19 commodities procured outside of the initiative, nor waste generated by the public, like disposable masks.


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