COVID-19: Safety Measures for Waste Collectors

As the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) continues to spread, its impact on health and the economy keeps intensifying as the days go by.

Schools are closed, travels have been restricted, businesses are advised to operate online and majority of the population are encouraged to stay home. It seems life has come to a stand still for most people, since their normal routine has been disrupted.

However, while things are not normal again due to the virus and countries are taking necessary steps to fight COVID-19, essential services and facilities need to stay operational.Grocery stores and pharmacies, fuel stations and public transport, clinics and hospitals, and of course, service providers such as electricity, water, gas, and waste management.

Proper waste management services is believed to be a key element in the fight of the pandemic. Effective waste management services will help minimize possible secondary impacts upon health and the environment.

During such an outbreak, many types of additional medical and hazardous waste are generated, including infected masks, gloves and other protective equipment, together with a higher volume of non-infected items of the same nature. Unsound management of this waste could cause unforeseen “knock-on” effects on human health and the environment. The safe handling, and final disposal of this waste is therefore a vital element in an effective emergency response.

The safe management of household waste is also likely to be critical during the COVID-19 emergency. Medical waste such as contaminated masks, gloves, used or expired medicines, and other items can easily become mixed with domestic garbage, but should be treated as hazardous waste and disposed of separately. These should be separately stored from other household waste streams and collected by specialist municipality or waste management operators.

Consequently, the first priority is to make sure that collection workers will increase their protection from infections. This means that besides the measures that are taken for the whole population, we have to take care for the following:

  1. Careful and continuous use of the relevant health & safety equipment (gloves, masks etc.) – an important measure here is to make sure that the workers are removing masks and gloves without getting in contact with them, usually this means with the help of someone else. Protective equipment for eyes is also very useful for avoiding coronavirus infections.
  2. Direct contact (without gloves) with bins or bags should be avoided in any case.
  3. Uniforms should be daily changed – cleaning of work clothes and shoes is minimizing the possibility of dispersing the virus in the air – make sure you do not shake clothes – wash them at a temperature of at least 60 ° C with common detergents, add disinfectants if possible;
  4. Put a disposable set of gloves, on a daily basis, in direct contact with your skin, before you wear your usual work gloves.
  5. Make sure that there are disinfectants available in each and every vehicle.
  6. Frequent hand-washing and increased cleaning in workers’ facilities is a must.
  7. Drivers and collectors should avoid contact with residents and employees from serviced business.
  8. Sanitize and disinfect the driver’s cab of vehicles destined for the collection of municipal waste after each work cycle, paying particular attention to the fabrics (e.g., seats) which can represent a site of greater persistence of the virus than the steering wheel, gearbox, etc., more easily sanitized. The vacuum cleaner must be used only after adequate disinfection. The use of disinfectants (e.g. at least 75% v / v alcohol) in a spray pack is recommended.
  9. Social distancing practices should be applied at the headquarters, at meeting rooms as well as at changing rooms.

The second priority for any waste collection system is to develop contingency plans that will make sure that waste collection should be uninterrupted in any case, just to make sure that no extra health risks are added on top of the pandemics.