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.
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:
- 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.
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.
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!
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