Decreased use of mass transportation and private vehicles of people staying at home, shutdown of many business places, slowdown of production rate by many factories due to the pandemic of 2019 novel coronavirus (Covid-19) led a substantial decrease in use of fossil fuels. Consequently, air quality significantly improved. Although, however, the pandemic seems to positively affect the environment with the decreased human impact on environment, danger is ongoing for both the environment and human health.
Piles of infected wastes including used face masks, gloves and protective equipment are rising due to the pandemic. Disposable personal protective equipment cause serious damage to the environment. The environmental group OceanAsia observed that there are surgical masks found on the coast of Soko islands in Hong Kong. Today, plastic pollution in sea is a serious environmental issue. Moreover, the disposable medical products contacted infected patients must be considered as medical wastes to avoid any contamination which may occur during recycle. Whereas the masks used by healthy people could be handled with domestic wastes under proper sorting conditions, it is hard to separate them at the times of pandemic. The disposal of the masks used by those under quarantine at their homes is a very serious issue. While the masks disposed of together with domestic wastes adds on the volume of waste, the fact that they pose a risk of contamination would increase the risk of spreading at the stages of collection and disposal of such wastes. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) states that the employees and employers of waste management industry should handle the wastes contaminated with 2019-nCoV in the same way as the other regulated medical wastes.
WHO stated that it is not sure how long the virus causing COVID-19 survive on surfaces but it does not behave like other types of coronavirus. The laboratory studies on coronaviruses in the well-controlled environments showed that the virus could survive for days or even weeks in the water contaminated by stool. Waste water carried through sewer systems must be properly controlled in well-designed and well-managed central waste water treatment plants to avoid the transmission of the virus to receiving water bodies. If the existing waste water treatment plants are not optimized so as to eliminate viruses, a final step of disinfection may be considered. The best practices must also be followed to protect the health of the workers at the treatment plants.
The necessary measures must be taken for waste and waste water management bearing in mind that coronavirus not only is a health problem but also could have impact on environment. The used masks and gloves should be thrown away not into the nature but into the suitable containers.