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Addressing Waste Management During COVID-19: Challenges And Way Forward

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Waste Management is one of the most important sanitary barriers to prevent dissemination of illnesses and diseases. During the Corona pandemic, waste management becomes the challenge to every member of society. It intensifying impact on the world’s healthcare systems and the economy.

Therefore, there is a need for understanding the significance of waste management and ensuring reliable and systematic waste management, in order to protect the health of citizens and restrict the spread of the virus. Keeping this in mind, Centre for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi organized the panel discussion on Waste Management during COVID 19: Challenges and the Way Forward.

Dr Simi Mehta, the CEO and Editorial Director IMPRI, introduced the topic and welcomed the distinguished Panel. She said that waste management is the most significant component of preventing the propagation of disease and illness.

She stated the question that How does one ensure the scientific waste management of solid waste, biomedical waste and hazardous waste during the pandemic? She also stated that corona waste requires the meticulous mechanism to deal with the waste and ensure the degree of efficiency and safety of the citizens during COVID times. There is a need to document the changes introduced by the municipal in solid waste management and also monitoring the process through the periodic assessment.

Dr Keith Alverson, Director International Environmental Centre, United Nations Environment Programme, Japan, chaired the session for the discussion and addressing the problem of waste management during the COVID19. He raised the questions that to whom we address the challenge the waste management? Who takes the responsibility to control it?.

He stated the efforts of the various International Organisation, Government agencies and research Organisation working in waste management. Dr Keith pointed out the challenges faced by the institution, hospitals and care centres. He emphasized upon the safety, security and hygiene of frontline warriors like workers and staff working the waste management. Moreover, he also stated the increased amount of waste such as plastic waste and other medical waste during the COVID19 generated the problem for society.

By stating on the expression of ‘multiple disasters’ such as Flooding problem, earthquake and other natural calamities during pandemic he stated the problem of mobilizing the people from one place to another. He also stated the situation of Japan where the problem of Flooding affects the life of people and creates challenges to the government authority to ensure the safety and security of citizens.

Ms Swati Singh Sambyal, Waste Management Specialist UN Habitat Centre India, emphasized upon the “Existing challenges and best practice of COVID 19 waste management in India”.Ms Sambyal focuses on the solutions that how cities in India combating the challenge of Waste management during the COVID19 times.

She discussed the various Sources of the COVID19 waste which includes (i) Containment zones/Red zones, (ii) Quarantine facilities/COVID care centres, (iii) Isolation homes, (iv) Home Quarantine, (v) Health care facilities/hospitals/labs.  Ms Sambyal while mentioning the Dr Keith point that we weren’t preparing ourselves from decades in handling the waste management and stated that this is now more difficult for the authorities to come out with comprehensive plan to deal with waste in pandemic times.

However, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) released the Guidelines for handling the COID19 Biomedical waste (BMW) with constant update and admission. Further, she discussed the Segregation of BMW and stated the various categories such as Yellow, Red, White and Blue along with the type of BMW and their treatment and discharge.

She also stated the data on Status of Biomedical waste management in India and asserted that before the COVID19 outbreak, a government or a private hospital would typically produce 500 grams of biomedical waste, (like syringes, urine bags, gauze, etc) per bed, daily. Now, that number has gone up to between 2.5kg to 4kg per bed, daily, according to the CBWTF in Delhi. This waste is not limited to the hospitals but the isolation homes or Quarantine centre also contributes, which is a major problem in managing and dealing with the waste.

She stated the multi fold challenges due to the waste which includes the availability of workers and staff for collection and disposal of CBWMTF, huge quantity of general mixed with infected COVID waste at the quarantine centres and isolation wards. She expressed the concern for the frontline warriors who managed these waste as they are more vulnerable to the Coronavirus.

Moreover, she presented the case studies of effective interventions of waste management in India which shows the role of civil society groups, NGOs, government Organisation, etc., in managing and segregating the waste within the cities of different States. The case study covered the Panaji, Goa, Panchgani, Maharashtra, Ambikapur, Chattisgarh, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala and Vijaywada, Andhra Pradesh. In the end, she proposed the ideas for waste management and stated the Decentralization of Urban cities, segregate, Strengthen biomedical waste, sound management of plastic and social engineering.

plastic waste
Representational image.

Prof Brajesh Kumar Dubey, Associate Professor, Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, commenced the discussion with the World Bank report titled “ What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050”. Prof Brajesh focused on the municipal solid waste management where the world generates 2.01 billion tons of municipal solid waste annually.

He stated the segregation waste generated such as metal, glass, plastic, paper/cardboard and Food green and stated the data of different countries generated solid waste annually. While emphasizing on the segregation, Prof Brajesh made a reference of his article which was published in Economic Times on Jan 13, 2018, titled ‘For effective waste disposal, segregation is the key’.

He expressed the causes of increased generation of plastic waste in the COVID times and stated the reasons such as online delivery, panic buying, stockpiling and PPE disposal. He expressed the concern about the plastic waste especially the single used plastic like gloves, mask, and apron which is high in demand among the customers and there is not waste management of it.

Moreover, he stated the factors that discouraging plastic recycling sector which includes (a) Stump in oil prices, (b) Transport restrictions, (c) Staff Shortage due to Corona pandemic. Further in the discussion, Prof Brajesh asserted on the fact the because of COVID19 there is a change of consumer preferences considering the hygiene factor used the single-use plastic instead of reusable and this creates the high demand of single-use plastic.

He also stated the proposed practices of waste (plastic) management to fight the future pandemic. It includes incineration, chemical recycling, and bioplastics. He concluded the presentation with the comparative analysis of Solid waste management from a normal scenario with the COVID19 and suggested that there is need of coordinated efforts from all the sections of the society to control and regulate the waste management.

Mr. Sameer Unhale, Additional Commissioner, Ulhasnagar Corporation opined that there is a need to recognize the work of manual scavengers because they are not ‘sanitary slaves’. The stigma attached to the work of rag-picking needs to be discarded in these crucial times where they are collecting the garbage from the affected homes as well exposing themselves to the risks. Thus, the testing of municipal labour should be prioritized.

Solid waste management workers from municipalities and from common grounds should be trained online to sensitize them about coronavirus and the ways in which they can protect themselves. He raised the question of how 1000 manual scavengers will clean the garbage by millions of people in the city? He calls for individual participation and community engagement for being a reasonable citizen is required to dispose of the garbage.

Awareness materials in local languages by international agencies and the private sector can be helpful in sensitizing the people on the ground. The collaborative efforts from the private sector, international agencies and government departments will bring the required change. He opined that irresponsible media has created panic among the people since it is the major source of information to the local people.

Dr Arjun Kumar, Director IMPRI, concluded the discussion by mentioning the significance of Waste management and acknowledged the concern of Waste during the COVID19. He stated that this pandemic brought up the focus on waste management because it poses a security threat to human beings. He expressed the principles of sustainability which includes sustainable production and consumption, circular economy, zero waste.

He also stated that make waste as non-negotiable priority and agenda after the post-pandemic. He acknowledged the government programmes and schemes which make a marvellous impact on hygiene, waste management and wellbeing of citizens such as the Clean India Campaign. He also suggested the systematic waste management is the key and that leads to the cost saving of government, decentralization of technology and promotion of entrepreneurship.

Finally, he thanked the Chair, all panellist and participants for participating in the important discussion which has great significance in contemporary times. He also assures that we will continue to hold such policy debates and discussions on these important issues also in the future.

By Dr Simi Mehta, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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