•Nema says waste is still being mixed with other wastes.
•Masks are being dumped into the environment after use.
An environmental watchdog has raised a red flag over poor management of waste generated as the country battles the Covid-19 pandemic.
The National Environment Management Authority on Tuesday said a number of counties are still mixing Covid-19 waste and other forms of waste.
“We have a lot of challenges in Covid-19 waste in a number of counties as they are still mixing all the waste instead of sorting them at the household level,” Nema director general Mamo Mamo said in his office.
Mamo said counties were poorly managing waste yet the authority had developed national waste management guidelines.
On March 12, 2020, the government reported the first case of coronavirus and the Ministry of Health imposed measures to curb the spread.
The Public Health Rules, 2020, say that every person in a public place must use a proper mask that covers their mouth and nose.
This law has led to increased use of masks which are regarded by health professionals as infectious waste that requires careful handling.
The used face masks are slowly being dumped into the environment after use.
Other wastes generated include surgical gloves, sanitiser bottles, soap bottles, personal protective equipment and other related medical waste.
Following the outbreak of the pandemic, the United Nations Environment Programme warned against poor handling of waste during Covid-19, saying it risks having secondary impacts on health and the environment.
UNEP said during such an outbreak, hazardous waste is generated including infected masks, gloves and other protective equipment.
The global environmental body also warned that the fight against plastic pollution was being hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, as the use of disposable masks, gloves and other protective equipment soars.
UN agencies and partners insist that effective measures should be put in place to ensure the number of plastics discarded every year can be significantly cut or even eliminated.
UNEP said the sale of masks had driven pollution.
The UN agency said if historical data is a reliable indicator, it can be expected that around 75 per cent of the used masks, as well as other pandemic-related waste, will end up in landfills, or floating in the seas.
Mamo said they had proposed that yellow coded bags be used to dispose of Covid-19 waste in line with the national Covid-19 national strategy.
“They (counties) need to provide yellow coded bags for the local communities to transport and dispose of Covid-19 waste and to be properly incinerated with the support of public health officers and county environmental officers,” Mamo said.
He said the guidelines sought to cautiously handle the Covid-19 waste generated by segregating at source and ensuring the infectious waste is not mixed with general waste; ensure that the waste is collected and transported by the Nema licensed hazardous waste handlers.
According to the guidelines, if the used masks, gloves and sanitiser bottles are tossed in confined spaces such as elevators, market places, offices, matatus/ buses among others, they may contaminate the environment, posing a potential threat to people within it.
Further, it is inappropriate to mix contaminated masks/gloves with household waste.
In Kenya, municipal waste or garbage segregation is non -existent and mixed waste commonly exists in households as well as in the dumpsites.
The mixture of contaminated waste and recyclable waste may cause a potential danger to waste collectors when they scavenge the waste bins to collect recyclable items.
In the worst-case scenario, if someone just throws a used mask on the street, someone might pick it up, or worse try to collect them to sell second-hand.
The guidelines state that special bins will be set up in communities as centralised disposal points for the used masks and shall be supervised by the public health officers or their agents.
In a gated community, apartments, residential areas, factories, institutions, office blocks, the management or the owner of such facilities will provide medical waste pedal bins that will have biohazard bin liners.
The management/owners will engage a licensed hazardous waste handler to collect and transport the infectious waste for final disposal in accordance with Environmental Management and Coordination (Waste Management) Regulations of 2006.
In the rural and small urban centres at the ward level, the county governments will provide waste bins either at the chief's camp, ward offices or health clinics and any other appropriate designated places that will be communicated to the public.
Collection of such hazardous waste from designated places will be done through a licensed infectious waste handler.
Mamo said his office has directed Nema county directors to work closely with public health, county governments and county environment committees to ensure waste being generated from the pandemic is disposed of in an appropriate manner.
-Edited by SKanyara