Protocol on segregation, disposal of COVID-19 health care wastes

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Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9003, otherwise known as the “Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000”, is the umbrella waste management policy in the Philippines which aims to provide a comprehensive and ecological solid waste management among the local government units (LGUs) in the Philippines, to protect public health and ensure environmental sustainability and economic efficiency.

According to a report by the United Nations Environment Program, the Philippines is considered to be the fourth largest generator of solid waste among country-members of the ASEAN as it generates up to 14.66 million tons of trash per year.

As COVID-19 cases surge in the Philippines, the amount of COVID-19-related health care wastes produced within healthcare facilities, research centers, and laboratories related to medical procedures as well as at homes (e.g. home dialysis, self-administration of insulin, recuperative care) have grown exponentially.

Metro Manila alone generates 280 metric tons of medical waste daily during the pandemic. According to Environment Undersecretary for Climate Change Analiza Teh, as of 14 April 2021, our country has produced around 52,000 metric tons of hospital waste. This is equivalent to over two million sacks of rice, with one sack containing 25 kilograms. This coincides with another study stating that the Philippines ranked 17th worldwide in terms of global plastic waste generated from COVID-19 facemasks. This is a drastic 595% increase from the metric tons of trash generated from healthcare facilities before the pandemic.

According to Sangkham study (2020), the Philippines generated 353.03 tons of medical waste per day, it is estimated that the daily production of surgical masks amounts to 78,560,000 pieces, while the N95 masks amount to 19,600,000 pieces. Meanwhile, the consumption of single-use face masks is estimated at 98,192,700 pieces daily. With this, it is estimated that the annual face mask wastes in the country would amount to 201,871.15 tons, 153,824.65 tons of which may potentially end up in the ocean.

The Department of Health (DOH) issued the revised Health Care Waste Management Manual that was produced in close collaboration with other government agencies, the academe, civil society, and various professional groups. The Manual provides information regarding safety procedures on the collection, transport, handling, storage, treatment, and disposal of healthcare wastes. However it appears that there are no similar protocols regarding household COVID-19-related wastes.

Moreover, remedial measures or interim guidelines to ensure the proper disposal and storage of COVID-19-related health care wastes appear to be inadequate. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has emphasized that the paramount way to manage solid waste is the LGUs strict compliance with waste segregation laws, especially R.A. No. 90037.
The DENR asserts that Transporters, Storage, and Disposal (TSD) facilities across the country only accommodate healthcare institutions.

Hence, household healthcare wastes are catered by local waste collectors without proper knowledge of handling, storing, and disposal of healthcare wastes. The increased volume of healthcare wastes has imposed new burdens on both the national and LGUs.

The absence of strong solid waste management during the pandemic might contribute to the rapid and more widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the country. The full cooperation and strong political commitment of LGUs are critical ingredients of an efficient and effective implementation of R.A. No. 9003.

Given the inadequate and improper handling of hazardous wastes in local communities during this pandemic, which have serious public health consequences as well as significant environmental impact, it is crucial for the government to adequately and immediately respond, by developing a contingency plan based on local conditions and requirements. There is an utmost need to conduct a re-assessment of the implementation and level of compliance of LGUs with R.A. 9003.

Hence, Senator Leila De Lima filed Senate Resolution No. 910 directing the appropriate Senate committee to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the compliance of LGUs with Republic Act No. 9003 on the segregation of wastes, with the end view of enacting amendments to the existing legislation that will provide a comprehensive protocol on proper and effective segregation and disposal of COVID-19-related health care wastes.