Open Letter for Those Dealing with Healthcare Waste During COVID-19 Pandemic

Advice from Dr. Anne Woolridge, Chair of the ISWA Working Group on Healthcare Waste

Dr. Anne Woolridge, Chair of the ISWA Working Group on Healthcare Waste, Chief Operating Officer at Independent Safety Services Ltd and Chief Operating Officer at Peak HSE Ltd., writes an open letter offering some advice for those dealing with Healthcare Waste during this difficult time.

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Dr. Anne Woolridge, Chair of the ISWA Working Group on Healthcare Waste, Chief Operating Officer at Independent Safety Services Ltd and Chief Operating Officer at Peak HSE Ltd., writes an open letter offering some advise for those dealing with Healthcare Waste during this difficult time.

These are very scary times we are living in. We have just gone into a near lockdown in the UK. It is difficult to see people getting sick and dying every day across the world.  I have dealt with the healthcare waste from other pandemics, but this is the first time I have had to write this being restricted to my home only allowed through my gate to get essential provisions.

In terms of waste management, whilst we need to observe all hygiene and health and safety precautions, we must realise that waste is not the main way of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19.  The pathogen is transmitted by someone coughing spluttering or sneezing onto another person or onto hard surfaces where virus particles can be picked up and transferred to the nose and mouth.

Our amazing workers in the healthcare waste sector are used to dealing with hazardous infectious clinical waste and the protocols should be on place for this.  Infectious clinical waste from this pandemic does not require incineration, as any tested alternative treatment technology will render the waste safe.

In countries where there are fewer healthcare waste collection systems the risk of catching HIV and hepatitis (in all forms) is greater than COVID-19 due to the fact that this survives longer in needles and other blood contaminated waste. The waste from the treatment of COVID-19 is predominantly respiratory and personal protective equipment which is not a friendly environment for SARS-CoV-2.  This is the same for domestic waste and recycling streams. Storing these wastes for more than 72 hours prior to collection means that there will be little if any virus left by the time the waste is processed and normal protocols should be followed then. 

Use your regular work supplied PPE, but make sure you put it on and take it off as you were trained as many cases of people catching any disease is touching the mask with dirty hands.  You can find UK National Health Service advice on putting on and taking off PPE here. 

The best way not to catch COVID-19 is to keep your distance from infected persons and ensure that where possible you wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds in line with World Health Organisation guidance.

Keep your distance, keep handwashing and stay safe!

Dr Anne Woolridge
Chair of the HCW Working Group