In this interview, Anita Nouri shares with us her insights into the challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic from a waste management perspective and gives important advice on how all of us can play our part in mitigating the disastrous effects of Corona-contaminated items in our municipal waste stream.
Q: Which challenges does the waste management sector face due to the current pandemic?
A: The current pandemic of the novel coronavirus presents new challenges regarding municipal waste management practices and procedures.
New general procedures for the waste sector after coronavirus and procedures addressing the health and safety of employees need to be developed. In this region, waste management is challenging, and time is critical.
Q: How does Covid-19 affect our waste streams?
A: What used to be MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) is now strictly speaking HMSW (Hazardous Municipal Solid Waste) because of the amount of COVID-contaminated waste that is being landfilled.
During such an outbreak, many types of additional medical and hazardous waste are generated, including infected masks, gloves and other protective equipment, together with a higher volume of non-infected items of the same nature.
Another unfortunate effect of the current pandemic and the resulting movement restrictions is the increased amount of single-use plastic from food and other deliveries that is getting back into the system.
If we fail to recognize and support sound management of this waste, we potentially cause unforeseen effects on human health and the environment. The increased amounts of plastics in our waste stream have taken us a step backwards. The safe handling and final disposal of this waste is vital, and it is up to us to do our part.
Q: How should this medically contaminated municipal waste be treated?
A: The question is what do we do with our waste if we think it is contaminated? The workers who pick it up and take it to the landfill are faceless heroes that put their lives at risk everyday just like the health care providers.
The coronavirus has introduced us to a whole new world. “Stay home and save lives” should also include the fact that while we are at home, we now have the time to really separate our waste, think about solutions and teach our children responsible waste management practices. This is where we as citizens of a “smart city” can support the efforts in this ongoing situation that is developing every day.
Q: What is our responsibility towards the waste workers?
A: We all need to act to protect the waste workers who are also trying to stay safe for their families.
The virus lives on surfaces longer than you would think. Different surfaces provide different life spans [the WHO gives a general estimate of up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, up to 4 hours on copper and up to 24 hours on cardboard, editor’s note].
Especially by discarding possibly contaminated waste on the street or in the environment, this risk is passed onto the poor worker who inadvertently picks it up and cleans up our mess while risking his health.
In Dubai – a city known for its cleanliness – there are waste disposal bins everywhere. There is no excuse to not dispose of protective masks and gloves responsibly, especially now that malls and public spaces are slowly re-opening.
Q: What are some steps to follow at home?
A: Waste management and waste reduction take thoughtfulness on our parts – and it starts at home. We need to think before we throw. Now more than ever we need to consider our actions and their implications: what have we touched, where did we go, who used this, and what is it?
For example, start by having a separate bin only for masks and gloves and marking it as Covid-19-waste.
You can always call Dubai Municipality, or your waste collection provider, and ask what the best solution is. But we do not need the government or the waste companies to provide this, we must be proactive and responsible for ourselves.
We need to support each other even more that before, be mindful of our waste and reduce as much as we can. Together we can do it.
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Anita Nouri is the CEO and Business Development Director of Green Energy Solutions & Sustainability LLC, a Dubai-based company targeting landfills in the region and a pioneer in the landfill gas-to-energy field in the Middle East.
You can listen to her previous interview on Forward Talks HERE and hear Anita telling us about their project to degas UAE’s largest landfill & how they hope to harness it for energy.