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June 2022

COVID-19 waste management

Written by Nathalie Leblond

This blog investigates the responsible disposal of the medical waste generated by the Coronavirus pandemic, and how you choose a reliable COVID-19 waste management partner.It's been a little over two and a half years since the world first heard about the COVID-19 virus and the rigorous decontamination rituals we practised during the early days of Lockdown Level 5 are a distant memory.

Coronavirus trends

In many parts of the world, life is almost back to "normal" - although countries have taken different approaches to curbing the Omicron variant;  from full lockdowns in the Netherlands and Austria to booster shots in Israel, to mixed messages in the US. 

In SA, March 2022 saw us move to "Adjusted Level 1".  The stringent hygiene protocols which marked the start of the pandemic have been replaced with reluctant masking (only required indoors) and restrictions on the size of indoor gatherings. 

Are we getting complacent?

As a hygiene services provider we can't help but feel some sense of anxiety at the thought of hygiene protocols starting to slip. There's no doubt that good hand hygiene saves lives. Also of concern is the fact that how we dispose of our COVID-19 waste has become something of an afterthought. 

Disposable face masks are now one of the biggest causes of environmental pollution. They take hundreds of years to break down and threaten to entangle wildlife, litter our beaches, block sewers, and pollute the food chain. Not only is face mask litter potentially contaminated with Coronavirus, but masks are made of long-lasting plastic materials that don't break down.  Read this previous round-up post on everything you need to know about masks, including disposing of them safely.

How should you dispose of COVID-19 waste?

Let's just quickly clarify what we mean here by the term 'COVID-19 waste'.  It's not just disposable face masks. This is anything that could be contaminated or potentially contaminated with the COVID-19 virus. Depending on the setting, this could include tissues, face masks, gloves, overalls, and other PPE.

When disposing of COVID-19 contaminated waste or indeed any waste that is potentially contaminated with COVID-19, there are 3 things you should keep in mind.

  1. How do I prevent the risk of cross-contamination in my environment?

  2. How do I ensure that the contaminated waste is disposed of safely, once it has left my environment?

  3. How do I ensure that this potentially contaminated waste does not end up polluting our oceans, beaches, rivers or lakes?

Here are a few simple tips to help you dispose of contaminated (or potentially contaminated) COVID-19 waste safely:

  • Whether you're at home or at work, always flush snotty tissues down the toilet straight away, rather than putting them down on a surface (cross-contamination!) or throwing them in a waste bin. The waste bin has to be emptied, exposing the person doing so to the viral or bacterial load that was on those tissues. 

    You can also read this post on our top 3 winter cold and flu prevention tips. And read this blog post on how far a sneeze can travel!

  • When at work, PPE (such as face masks) should be disposed of in a designated receptacle such as an Initial PPE disposal solution that is safely removed by trained experts wearing the appropriate PPE.  A reputable disposal company will also ensure proper procedures are followed so that this waste is treated and disposed of in a designated landfill. Read more about why this matters: Your guide to PPE disposal.

  • If you test positive for COVID-19, and are isolating at home, we recommend that you use one garbage bag to dispose of all COVID-infected waste. When the bag is full, tie it closed with a knot and place it in another garbage bag that is also tied with a knot.  Place this bag in an area away from people and animals for 5 days before disposing of it through your municipal waste disposal service. As an additional precaution, mark the bag clearly as "COVID-19 waste - do not open".

  • After disposing of any waste (including Covid-19 waste) it's important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and then dry them properly. Download our office hygiene posters for your office as a reminder to all colleagues that good hand hygiene practices remain a crucial part of remaining healthy. 
Download Office Hygiene Posters
Initial is able to deliver high quality, professional and legally compliant COVID-19 services across the country. Our qualified technicians are equipped with all the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and specialist disinfection equipment to work safely and effectively.

Contact Initial today to speak to one of our experts regarding a solution to suit your medical waste requirements. 

Contact the Initial team to discuss your hygiene requirements

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

I joined Rentokil Initial South Africa in 2004 as the PA to the MD, and after 6 months maternity leave I re-joined the Company in 2009 as the Marketing Co-ordinator for Rentokil. I'm now the Marketing Communication Manager for Rentokil Initial. I'm still terrified of cockroaches (Americana's only!) but the rest of the creepy crawlies we deal with don't really bug me (see what I did there?), so I guess I'm in the right industry! I am passionate about what we do here at Rentokil Initial and also write for our Hygiene Blog, which can be found at blog.initial.co.za, and our Ambius blog - https://www.ambius.co.za/blog. Life outside of Rentokil Initial mostly revolves around my daughter, who has just turned twelve, and my husband (who is a bit older). I love living in Cape Town and wouldn't trade living here for anywhere else in the world.

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