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Overcoming Medical Waste Problem during the Pandemic

Written by Adides Gideon Simanjuntak, Rafy Ramadhan, Stephanie Ruth Armida: Content Writer Interns Project Child Indonesia

It has been more than a year since we have our ‘14 days quarantine’. Who would have thought that the pandemic would stick around for such a long time? Just imagine all the medical waste we have produced up until now! If we do not pay any attention to medical waste, it will cause us problems in the future. Let us see what medical waste actually is, what are the problems caused by it, and what we can do to help!

What is Medical Waste?

According to WHO, Medical Waste can be classified as waste that is generated with the body fluids/contact with human beings or animals. Masks, gloves, hazmat suits, and other used medical devices from COVID-19 testings are the common examples of medical waste that has increased during the pandemic. Medical waste comes not only from hospitals, but also from households. Everyone produces medical waste, including us. 

Problems Arise

As the number of COVID-19 patients keeps getting higher each day, the number of PPEs (Personal Protection Equipments) used is also getting higher. This results in more medical waste produced. Unfortunately, our country hasn’t been able to handle it very well. Due to COVID-19, medical waste in Indonesia has reached 6.417,95 tons as of February 4th, 2021.

Right now, our country is facing problems from several dimensions:

  • Environmental
    • Most PPEs contain polypropylene, polyurethane, polyacrylonitrile, polyethylene, and polyethylene terephthalate, chemicals that make it harder to break down. The fragmentation of it will not only harm the land, but also the water ecosystems in rivers and the sea.  They can tangle and poison animals such as fish and birds that live near water. 
    • PPEs will release toxins if they are burned in the open, causing air pollution. Medical waste such as these has to be incinerated to kill the dangerous elements in it. However, even Incinerators cause pollution, meaning more health problems to the respiratory system and the skin. 
    • Landfills are overwhelmed by medical waste. The degradation process of medical waste can release the toxic chemicals to an open environment which can be hazardous to people around the area. 
  • Social

Because rivers are now heavily polluted with medical waste, families who rely their lives  on rivers are at risk. For example, residents who depend on the Cisadane river for their daily necessities are now scared of using the water because it’s too dangerous (Keck, 2020). Workers who rely on waste picking are also impacted because they have to be in contact with the medical waste; hence, they have a bigger risk of catching the virus. 

  • Economic

To save our country, our government has to work on solutions, and they definitely cost a lot of money. For example, they are building new incinerator plants, and while the government is working on those, they also have to spend more on third-parties in order to let hospitals use their incinerators to burn medical waste.

The Good News

You can a little be at ease, because our government and other bigger parties surely are working on the solutions for our medical waste problems. One of them is that our government is cooperating with cement factories by using their kilns as incinerators. In the meantime, Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, the Director-General for Solid Waste, Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Substances Management at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia stated in one of Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)’s webinar last year that the government is currently focusing on building five new incinerators this year and a total of 32 incinerators within the next five year.

Another solution comes from LIPI. They are working on an environmentally-friendly method which is called recrystallization. It even produces recycled plastics with higher purity, as explained by Sunit Hendrana (2021), one of the researchers in LIPI. 

Lastly, our government also utilizes autoclaves, a sustainable tool to manage medical waste. It sterilizes medical waste using heat from pressured steam. WHO is working with our Ministry of Environment and Forestry and in collaboration with UNDP on building four autoclaves in hope that it can help solve the lack of incinerators in the country.

What Can We Do to Help?

There are many things we can do to help our environment, and they are very simple! Starting off small, we can reduce disposable mask consumption by wearing a double cloth mask or reusable mask such as the N95 mask. It might seem trivial, but if everyone does it, we can eventually reduce huge numbers of domestic medical waste. Also, in case you are unsure what to do with your medical waste, you can disinfect them simply by soaking in bleach/detergent before disposing of them at your nearest public health center (hospitals, clinics) where they can help you with better medical waste management. Remember, even the smallest thing can bring a huge impact if done by a lot of people. Stay safe and stay kind to our environment!

References:

Keck, M. (2020, September 7). COVID-19 Medical Waste Is Heavily Polluting This River in Indonesia. Global Citizen. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/covid-19-medical-waste-Cisadane-river/

Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia. (2021, January). Rekristalisasi, Solusi Daur Ulang Sampah Medis. http://lipi.go.id/berita/single/Rekristalisasi-Solusi-Daur-Ulang-Sampah-Medis/22316

Rikin, A.S. (2020, April 22). KLHK Akan Bangun 5 Insinerator Tahun Ini. Bisnis.com. https://ekonomi.bisnis.com/read/20200422/99/1230996/klhk-akan-bangun-5-insinerator-tahun-ini

Between The Environment and The Pandemic

Written by Nindy Silvia Anggraini, Content Writer Intern Project Child Indonesia 

In recent years many environmental issues have been called for, especially about plastic waste. Various trends have emerged ranging from the use of straws, drinking bottles, cutlery, and shopping bags that are environmentally friendly and can be used repeatedly. Making the sea turtles and habitats as the object of cruel attention to plastic waste that is not managed wisely by humans. In addition to the use of environmentally friendly goods, there is a suggestion for eating at the place / dine-in at the restaurant to reduce food/beverage takeaway and also delivery orders. But once the Covid-19 pandemic appeared, all the calls seemed to be forgotten. As recommended by the government, restaurants can only serve to take away and deliver orders. For example, what happened in the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta, before the implementation of the PSBB (Pembatasan Sosial Berskala Besar) due to the Covid-19 pandemic, from the daily waste volume of 7,500 to 8,000 tons/day was reduced by 620 tons/day. Doesn’t that mean the volume of waste is decreasing?

Overall the volume of waste has indeed declined, but there has been a shift in the waste-producing sector. Head of DKI Jakarta Environment Agency, H Andono Warihm, said that during the PSBB period, the volume of plastic waste generated by households was higher than before the pandemic. Of course, this happened because there was a shift in the consumption patterns of the people from those who could freely eat at restaurants or buy drinks with their drinking bottles, also shop at supermarkets with their shopping bags, now everything must be done online. Food and beverage delivery orders, online shopping for daily necessities, to necessities such as clothing and household appliances also require plastic bags or other types of waste that are not environmentally friendly.

We can’t just shut up and close our eyes knowing this fact, right? We must be able to pay attention to the environment while still obeying rules according to health protocols. The simplest way we can start in our kitchen. Cooking our food is the easiest way to stay concerned about the environment at a time like this. Besides, we can also pay attention to our daily nutrition intake and fill our free time during quarantine or work from the home period. What’s more, we don’t need to worry about viruses because we don’t make physical contact through any objects with strangers. But, we need to pay attention to food ingredients and wash everything before consuming it!

References 

https://www.liputan6.com/news/read/4283340/sampah-plastik-di-dki-jakarta-meningkat-saat-pandemi-coronahttps://www.aliansizerowaste.id/post/2020/04/16/menerapkan-zero-waste-di-masa-pandemi-corona

Plastic: An Indonesian Enemy

Written by Graciella Ganadhi, Content Writer Project Child Indonesia

Do you know that Indonesia is second place in terms of the world’s plastic waste producers? After China, we produce at least 25.000 tons of plastic waste every single day. All of that plastic is undeniably going to end up in rivers or coastal waters. 15 percent of plastic that pollutes the world’s oceans comes from Indonesia.

Plastic has become a modern-day Indonesian enemy. In March 2019, the soldiers of the Indonesian army had to clean up the piling plastic in Bandung’s river. The crisis is so severe that not only rivers but also beaches are also affected. Sanur Beach, Bali is one of the examples of this ever-growing pandemic. Tourists who visited the beach to enjoy the view are going to be welcomed with the smell of rotting plastic waste surrounding the area. Not only will this damage the environment, but this issue will also indefinitely damage our economy as well.

Fortunately, the Indonesian government is fighting back. However, the fight cannot be one-sided. As Indonesian citizens, we must join in on government initiatives. Understandably, our life has become more comfortable with the help of single-use plastic. However, making small changes in our life, such as reducing and reusing plastic, will help reduce our contribution to the world’s plastic invasion. If you shop, for example, start bringing your own reusable bags. If you eat out in places that use single-use plastic, bring your own utensils. Bring your own tumbler when you buy drinks, such as boba tea or coffee. It might seem too complicated and time-consuming, but imagine the impact it will bring. If you drink out of a plastic cup at least three times a week, if you start using a reusable cup, you reduce the use of plastic cups 3 times a week, which adds up to at least 156 cups per year! People say that it’s useless if only one person makes the change, but they never calculate how much a single person contributes to producing plastic waste. Now imagine if everyone starts doing so, imagine the changes that we will see as a generation.

If you reduce the use of plastic little by little each day, the turtles, jellyfishes, and octopuses on those environmental videos don’t have to suffer because of your waste.

Start small and make big changes in the future of our planet.

References:

  • https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/03/indonesia-has-a-plan-to-deal-with-its-plastic-waste-problem/. (Accessed on 28 February 2020 at 14.41)
  • https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2019/03/01/the-waste-challenge-is-indonesia-at-a-tipping-point-1551431355.html. (Accessed on 28 February 2020 at 14.41)