Majority of UK bins ‘contain dangerous used PPE’

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Majority of UK bins ‘contain dangerous used PPE’

Hazardous Covid-19 waste in bins could put lives at risk.

People are putting their used facemasks and protective wear into general waste bins, and with Covid-19 at large that poses a threat to refuse workers.

According to one waste management company, it’s not just health care workers wearing PPE. Ordinary citizens are donning gloves and facemasks, and this means a huge rise in the amount of PPE being thrown away.

UK based clinical waste collection company are now concerned that up to 80% of domestic and business bins have used – and possibly hazardous – PPE in them.
Company spokesperson Mark Hall says, “People need to make sure used PPE is thrown away correctly as it is contaminated waste.”

“By following the correct binning procedures, it ensures you break a link in the chain of infection and helps to stop the spread of the virus.”

No quarantine phoned over 1560 businesses and households and found that four out of five of them have been throwing used protective gear into their general waste.

Only 18% are putting the used gear in additional bags or “quarantining” it before disposal; and virtually no-one is using a specialist hazardous waste bin.

“People are wearing gloves and masks as they venture outside or to their local shops, which is a great way to reduce the risk of contamination – but the knock-on effect is that if more PPE is being used, then there is more that needs to be disposed of safely,” says spokesperson Mark Hall.

“Putting potentially contaminated PPE in the bin could expose waste collectors to the virus, so if you’re using PPE to stop the spread of the virus, you need to dispose of it in a way that stops the spread too.”

Safe disposal guidelines

This is why are reminding people to follow Public Health England guidelines regarding the safe disposal of waste to reduce the risks of spreading the virus.
The guidelines ask for you to seal personal waste such as tissues and PPE in smaller plastic bags and store them for 72 hours before putting them in the general waste bin.

Hall: “Unfortunately, the government has not been strict enough with dealing with waste PPE when it should be classed as hazardous waste – why are we putting the key working bin men at risk?”
Hazardous waste is defined as waste that poses risk to human health or the environment, and used PPE which could be contaminated with Covid-19 can fall into this classification.

“Waste that is hazardous needs to be disposed of carefully to prevent further harm to health, but as long as you follow the protocols of double-bagging and leaving aside for 72 hours, you won’t need to arrange for a separate hazardous waste collection,” Hall explains.

Reducing the amount of PPE in the bin

Although most PPE is being disposed of as part of household collections, some inconsiderate litterbugs have been failing to correctly dispose of their waste with used PPE being found on the side of roads or loose in public places.

“Single use items are one of the biggest polluters on the planet and sadly a lot of PPE falls into this category, especially as it has to be thrown away and cannot be recycled,” says Hall.
Crucially, stopping the spread of the virus remains the top priority, but as more PPE is used there may be ways to reduce the amount that ends up in the bin.

Reusable face masks can be purchased, reducing the need for disposable masks as these fabric masks can be machine washed on a hot setting to kill germs much like scrubs worn by doctors and nurses.
There are plenty of individuals in local communities who are making face masks, such as one woman in Stafford who is sewing masks to raise money for her local food bank.

Hall: “We advise you buy your own reusable mask, as medical single use masks need to be reserved for keyworkers and health care professionals, plus there’s the added bonus that it helps to reduce the amount of waste produced.

“You can buy these masks in a whole range of colours and prints, so you can pick one in any style – my wife got me one with a big cheesy grin on it, so now I can get away with being grumpy in public.”

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