COVID-19 Waste Awareness

United Nations Collaborates for COVID-19 Waste Awareness in South Africa

Your household and office waste can spread COVID-19 by infecting others. United Nations is concerned that most people do not realize this and has mounted a strong and urgent initiative to launch environmental education and communication programmes to stop the virus from being transmitted through waste material.

Partnering with United Nations Environmental Programme to develop and create awareness of how we can stop the spread of COVID-19 through responsible, considerate waste disposal practices are: The Department of Health (Environmental Unit); Department of Forestry, Fishery and Environment; Packaging SA; Plastics SA; SA Waste Pickers Association; Sustainable Seas Trust (SST); and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA).

“At this critical time more than ever I would like to underscore that improper management of health care waste poses serious harm to the environment and human health. The United Nations in South Africa is committed to working with partners to strengthen communities in the sound management and safe disposal of hazardous medical and sanitary waste,” said United Nations Resident Coordinator for South Africa, Nardo Bekele-Thomas.

To stop the COVID-19 pandemic it is essential that we cut off every way in which the virus is spread from one human to the next. One route that has been overlooked by many is through waste, whether on contaminated packaging such as plastics and cardboards or more hygiene related items such as masks, tissues, and gloves.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the already growing waste management challenges in various cities and countries in Africa. Improper management of health care waste poses serious harm to the environment and human health. The risk of disease transmission is higher due to exposure to infectious agents among waste pickers, waste workers, health workers, patients, and the community in general,” Bekele-Thomas continued.

According to the World Health Organization, the main routes of transmission are respiratory droplets and direct contact; but the immediate environment of an infected individual can also serve as a source of transmission as droplets may land on surfaces or objects where the virus could remain infectious.

“Everyone must become aware of the need to protect municipal waste collectors, waste-pickers or even curious individuals who might open bins and bags that might contain virus infected material from homes and offices. By keeping bags of waste sealed safely aside, for at least three days, could reduce the possibility of further contamination,” said Cecilia Kinuthia-Njenga, Head of UNEP office in South Africa.

Members of the public are encouraged to follow the social media pages of Sustainable Seas Trust and other partners listed above to receive more detailed information, tips, guidelines and recommendations on how to stop the spread of the virus by killing the COVID-19 contamination of packages coming into your household / workplace (e.g. groceries, items, products and packaging), and making sure that no live viruses leave your household /workplace on waste items.

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