Biomedical Waste


    In Context 

    The surge in the number of active COVID-19 cases in Delhi led to an increase in the quantum of sanitary and biomedical waste.

    Bio-medical Waste

    • It is the waste generated during the research testing, diagnosis, treatment, immunization or any other medical procedure of human beings or animals.

    Major Concerns 

    • Covid-19 waste generated last July was around 7.2 tonnes per day, which increased to 12.5-13 tonnes per day by the end of April 2021.
    • Unlike last year, biomedical waste generation is not limited to hospitals and quarantine centres now. The cases are rising at such a fast pace that every household is now producing such waste, and much of it is not being disposed of safely.
      • The trash from thousands of patients in home isolation is not even being collected separately as biomedical waste.
      • Masks, gloves and other hazardous biomedical waste is carelessly strewn all around the city. 


    • Improper management of Bio-medical waste can have both direct and indirect health consequences for health personnel, community members and the environment. 
      • Indirect consequences in the form of toxic emissions from inadequate burning of medical waste.
    • The most serious effect of biomedical waste is on seas as bio-medical waste discharged into the waters that could be consumed by ocean life creatures.
      • Toxins would interject into the food chain and eventually reach humans who consume sea creatures. 
      • Human exposure to such toxins can stunt human growth development and cause birth defects.

    Steps In Dealing Biomedical Waste

    Guidelines of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)

    • CPCB released guidelines  to ensure the safe disposal of biomedical waste generated during the treatment of COVID-19 
    • The used masks, tissues, head covers, shoe covers, disposable linen gowns, non-plastic and semi-plastic coveralls were to be disposed of in a yellow bag meant for incineration at a common biomedical waste treatment facility (CBWTF).
    • The communities need to dispose of their used napkins, tissues, empty sanitiser bottles in a separate bag, to ensure the safety of municipal workers and ragpickers.
    • It will also ensure that the cycle of garbage collection and plastic recycling don’t get affected.
    • The government should also provide safety kits to municipal workers urgently and educate them on how to handle household waste during the outbreak, to help in halting the chain of transmission.
    • Urban local bodies should engage the common bio-medical waste treatment facilities (CBWTFs) to pick up such waste either directly from such quarantined houses or identified collection points.

    Bio-medical Waste Management Rules, 2016

    • These rules shall apply to all persons who generate, collect, receive, store, transport, treat, dispose, or handle bio-medical waste in any form.
    • According to it, a Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment and Disposal Facility (CBWTF) is set up where biomedical waste is generated.
    • The member health care facilities imparted necessary treatment to reduce adverse effects that this waste may pose on human health and the environment.
    • It calls for Phase-out of the use of chlorinated plastic bags, gloves and blood bags within two years.
    • It calls for Pre-treatment of the laboratory waste, microbiological waste, blood samples and blood bags through disinfection or sterilisation on-site.
    • It seeks to Establish a Bar-Code System for bags or containers containing bio-medical waste for disposal.
    • As per the rules, Bio-medical waste has been classified into 4 categories to improve the segregation of waste at source.

                                Image Courtesy: TOI

    Technology options available  for ‘treatment’

    • Chemical processes: In these processes, chemicals act as disinfectants. Sodium hypochlorite, dissolved chlorine dioxide, peracetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, dry inorganic chemical and ozone are examples of such chemicals. Most chemical processes are water-intensive and require neutralising agents.
    • Thermal processes: These processes utilise heat to disinfect and they operate depending on the temperature.
    • Mechanical processes: These processes are used to change the physical form or characteristics of the waste to facilitate waste handling or to process the waste in conjunction with other treatment steps. 
    • Irradiation processes: In these processes, wastes are exposed to ultraviolet or ionizing radiation in an enclosed chamber. These systems require post shredding to render the waste unrecognizable.
    • Biological processes: Biological enzymes are used for treating medical waste. 
      • It is claimed that biological reactions decontaminate the waste and cause the destruction of all the organic constituents so that only plastics, glass, and other inert will remain in the residues.

    Way Forward

    • There is a need for better segregation of biomedical waste in households and quarantine centres housing Covid-19 patients.
    • The SC must direct the Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoEF) and CPCB to work out a national bar-coding system (a portal) for tracking biomedical waste. 
    • The government needs to make arrangements for dedicated trash bins for the disposal of hazardous waste such as masks and gloves.

    About Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)

    • The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is a statutory organisation under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
    • It was established in 1974 under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act and later entrusted with functions and responsibilities under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
    • The mandate of the Central Pollution Control Board is to set environmental standards in India, lay down ambient standards and coordinate the activities of State Pollution Control Boards.

    Source: HT