With the third wave of the pandemic now in full effect, healthcare facilities and staff are having to manage growing quantities of hazardous medical waste in addition to their life-saving medical work.
While bigger health facilities generally have an end-to-end waste management system in place, it’s the smaller health clinics or rural hospitals and their third-party waste collectors who are now under considerable strain.
“This has resulted in reports of this hazardous medical waste being illegally dumped in certain provinces,” says Justice Tootla, managing director of waste management company Averda.
He explains that if waste is not handled in the correct regulatory manner, it can pose health risks for local residents and of course the large community of waste pickers.
South Africa already has in place an established hazardous waste management system that’s compliant with global standards and has had its competence tested by previous outbreaks of other viruses.
Tootla emphasizes that even smaller facilities must ensure they safely manage hazardous medical waste, and that internal safe operating procedures need to be sufficiently up to date and applicable to the risk at hand.
The first step is that all medical waste generators must ensure that the waste is packaged in two legislated liners and a sealed box-set and stored in a safe space.
The second step lays with the third-party waste collectors.
“We understand the financial hardship that most of these smaller third-party waste collectors are experiencing and understand that the cost of disposing of this waste is becoming harder to afford as many South Africans find it difficult to make ends meet,” he adds.
“This is why my team here in the Western Cape and George are prepared to offer preferential destruction rates for these third-party waste collectors. We are interested in making sure all benefit during this time of national need.”
Tootla points out that there are regulations in place when it comes to the disposing of medical waste:
- The collection, transportation, treatment, and disposal of HCRW may only be performed by an appropriate, qualified service provider. However, a health establishment must ensure that waste is safely stored until a health care waste management company collects the HCRW and that the company is aware and acknowledges that waste was generated by suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case.
- Waste must be transported directly to the treatment facility or duly authorized disposal site.
Averda treats this waste stream by incineration and electro-thermal deactivation sites around South Africa, its healthcare incinerator in Klerksdorp has the capacity to incinerate up to 28 tons of waste per day, more than twice that of other incineration facilities in the country.
The Western Cape site has more than 75% capacity at the moment to process hazardous healthcare waste, plus a fully established incinerator and operational plant located in George.
“In solidarity and in the interest of the public safety we need to all work closer together in ensure that we can curb this virus and help South Africa get back on its feet.”