Cities across the world have been experimenting with different waste collection regulations since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Many have increased the household garbage bag limit, while others have suspended curbside pickup or opted to close recycling centers. Some governments are also issuing special waste disposal guidance to those who are in self-isolation with symptoms of COVID-19.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic recommendations, medical waste (trash) coming from healthcare facilities treating COVID-19 patients is no different than waste coming from any other medical facility. The CDC states that management of laundry, food service utensils and medical waste should be performed in accordance with routine procedures.
In other words, there is no evidence that waste generated in the care of patients with COVID-19 requires additional considerations for disinfection or disposal than routine medical waste disposal. This is because coronaviruses are susceptible to the same disinfection conditions in healthcare settings as other viruses.
For those with symptoms of the virus, there are several steps you can take both when cleaning and disinfecting your home as well as when disposing of personal waste such as used tissues, face masks, and disposable cloths.
When cleaning and disinfecting, you should wear disposable gloves. Focus your efforts on routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces. Doorknobs, light switches, keyboards, countertops — these are all high-touch surfaces that you should be cleaning often.
After cleaning with soap and water, the CDC recommends the use of Environmental Protection Agency-registered household disinfectants. You can check if your disinfectant of choice meets the EPA’s criteria for use against the virus that causes COVID-19 by checking the list on their website at www.epa.gov. Diluted household bleach solutions can also be effective if appropriate for the surface. Not all bleaches are suitable for disinfection, so make sure to check the label to confirm.
When disposing of personal waste, the CDC recommends a dedicated, lined trash-can for anyone with symptoms if possible. You should use gloves when removing garbage bags and disposing trash, and always wash your hands afterwards. You can also consider double-bagging your personal waste by placing it in a garbage bag, making sure it is securely tied, then placing it in a second bag and keeping it separate from your other waste.
If you’re an essential worker and required to use Personal Protective Equipment in the course of your job, make sure you know the waste category your PPE falls under when you go to dispose of it. Management of contaminated infectious waste follows state and local bylaws, and there can be hefty fines for not properly disposing waste if it’s considered medical. Check in with your local health unit to confirm whether or not your PPE falls into the medical or general waste category.
It may also be prudent to refrain from putting out any unnecessary waste for the time being. As the weather heats up, many of us enter spring cleaning mode — but delaying your spring cleaning will help reduce extra strain on the system during the pandemic. While it may be tempting to get rid of our hoarded winter items, we should all do our part to keep our trash collectors safe and the system running smoothly.