Protection without pollution: COVID-19 waste-reduction strategies

Published: 05/05/2021 - 14:13
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The world is undertaking the largest immunization campaign in history to fight COVID-19. Billions will be vaccinated in the coming years, which is generating an unprecedented amount of waste. If we plan ahead, we can minimize the impact and waste while ensuring safe practices for universal immunization.

The task ahead of us is huge. Innovative practices can reduce overall waste and provide a framework for safely processing hazardous materials. Medical waste must not be incinerated or dumped in landfills, it needs to be treated to reduce its impact on the environment and human health.

Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth are offering three guides to set up successful immunization programs that protect the health of people and our planet. 

Our guides

Before the pandemic, U.S. hospitals were already producing almost 6 million pounds of waste per year. COVID-19 has increased this amount dramatically.

Research from leading experts on immunization best practices demonstrates that protecting health does not mean using more PPE, rather it means using it judiciously. Our guidance describes which type of products should be used for different scenarios and how to reduce overall waste. 

The guidance documents cover the following topics:

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Gloves: Gloves are the highest-volume disposable product purchased by health care. Glove use has increased dramatically and is expected to nearly double in the next five years. As health care facilities rethink their purchasing and supply chains in the wake of COVID-19, this guidance can serve as a road map for choosing sustainable options.

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Coronavirus immunization waste: This unprecedented immunization campaign comes at a time when only 39% of countries have national programs on infection prevention and control, water sanitation, and health care waste management. The huge need for masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment, millions of COVID-19 tests, and lifesaving hospital treatment for victims of the disease has, in many cases, led to an increase in health care waste. This guidance provides recommendations on how to better manage and safely dispose of waste associated with immunization.

Mask icon Personal protective equipment: This guidance is for health professionals who are using PPE as they administer vaccinations. It will help vaccine administers ensure infection prevention while reducing unnecessary product use and waste. 

Together, we can protect against COVID-19 while guaranteeing the health of people and the planet.

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