COVID-19: UN warns against uncontrolled dumping of PPEs

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***says inadequate disposal of face masks a threat to environment

By: Bamidele Fashube

The United Nations(UN) on Thursday, warned against uncontrolled disposal of Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) saying this portends danger to the environment.

It projected that around 75 per cent of used masks, as well as other pandemic-related waste will end up in landfills, or floating in the seas.

In a release, it said most of them are made from environmentally harmful single-use plastics and if not well disposed and well managed, uncontrolled dumping could portend public health risks from infected used masks.

Also, it said the open burning or uncontrolled incineration of masks could lead to the release of toxins in the environment, and to secondary transmission of diseases to humans.

“..Because of fears of these potential secondary impacts on health and the environment, UNEP is urging governments to treat the management of waste, including medical and hazardous waste, as an essential public service,” it said.

The agency argued that the safe handling, and final disposal of this waste is a vital element in an effective emergency response.

It also quoted Pamela Coke-Hamilton, UNCTAD’s director of international trade as stating that; “Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak.

“The sudden boom in the daily use of certain products to keep people safe and stop the disease is making things much worse.”

However, it said a report on plastic waste published by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and sustainability thinktank Systemiq and endorsed by Inger Andersen, head of the UN environment agency UNEP, forecasts that, if no action is taken, the amount of plastics dumped into the ocean will triple by 2040, from 11 to 29 million tonnes per year.

But it said around 80 per cent of plastic pollution could also be eliminated over this same period, simply by replacing inadequate regulation, changing business models and introducing incentives leading to the reduced production of plastics.

“Other recommended measures include designing products and packaging that can be more easily recycled, and expanding waste collection, particularly in lower income countries,” it added.

Furthermore, it urged governments to promote non-toxic, biodegradable or easily recyclable alternatives, such as natural fibres, rice husk, and natural rubber.

” These products would be more environmentally-friendly and, as developing countries are key suppliers of many plastic substitutes, could provide the added benefit of providing new jobs,” it said.

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