Healthcare waste as a result of a global pandemic – what happens next?

Sep 17, 2021 | Healthcare Waste, ISWA blog, ISWA news

September 17th marks World Patient Safety Day, an international day that aims to enhance global understanding of patient safety, increase public engagement in health care safety, and promote global action to prevent and reduce avoidable harm in health care. Of course, patient safety goes hand-in-hand with safe healthcare waste management and treatment, so at ISWA we call for global solidarity and concerted action by all countries and international partners to improve patient safety.  


During the upcoming ISWA World Congress experts in Healthcare Waste management and treatment will come together and discuss “How the profile of healthcare waste has changed as the result of a global pandemic, and what happens next?”. 

In 2019, it was difficult to get anyone to talk about healthcare waste, a fairly small waste stream with limited interest. Fast forward to January 2020 – healthcare waste was being generated in very large quantities, specifically in China. Throughout January and February, there were increasing calls to class all waste from this relatively unknown pathogen as ‘infectious waste’. The pandemic began to creep around the world and healthcare waste increased exponentially. The route of transmission was assumed to be everything and everywhere, and hospitals were not only over flowing with patients, but also with waste, all of which was being treated as infectious.  

Throughout 2020 and into 2021, more research has been carried out and SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, has been shown to be a respiratory pathoge, transmitted from person-to-person rather than on surfaces. The effect of the initial lack of knowledge and fear of catching it has put the segregation of healthcare wastes back several years. The sector was starting to engage with recycling and the circular economy, but much of this has been shelved while the medical professionals and healthcare waste managers have been trying to cope with the vast volumes of waste created.  

As we come out of this global pandemic, now is the time to embrace new ideas and think about healthcare waste as a resource, and how we can best affect change for the future.  


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