How Gurugram is managing biomedical waste from residential communities in the time of COVID-19

Despite the guidelines from CPCB, management of biomedical waste is proving to be tough on the ground at several levels. Some suggestions for Gurugram

Gurugram’s population of almost 9 lakhs, has one Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF) for its collection, transportation and treatment – authorized by the Haryana State Pollution Control Board. In the wake of the pandemic, this CBWTF has faced unprecedented demand from the residential sector to collect and process their COVID-19 biomedical waste as a part of its service.

The agency, RWAs and the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) have been grappling with many challenges, as they attempt to streamline and ensure safe, regular collection and treatment of contaminated biomedical waste from quarantine homes.

Post pandemic, in Gurugram, new collection routes to collect BMW from quarantine homes were laid out. The CBWTF operator, M/s Vulcan Waste Management Co. (recently renamed Biotech Waste Ltd.) started domestic collection, since most of the clinics were shut during the lockdown. It used to collect almost 4 tons daily, till May end.

The facility has the capacity to manage 20 tons of waste every day (10 tons incineration and 10 tons autoclave i.e. sterilizing for shredding and recyling).

Prior to COVID-19, however, Vulcan was collecting biomedical waste from 1337 hospitals and clinics in the Gurugram and Rewari districts. Once these clinics reopened, the agency stopped collection from quarantine homes.

As a solution, MCG has put into place eight dedicated vehicles for the BMW collection from quarantine homes. These vehicles have been deployed by Ecogreen – the concessionaire appointed to manage the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) of Gurugram. 

An awareness poster by Municipal Corporation Gurgaon for the residents.

How is waste being collected?

The waste is picked up every alternate day or at worst, once in three days from each home, with a designated route and zone supervisor, covering all the four zones in Gurugram. These routes are shared regularly on social media and amongst citizen Whatsapp groups.

All BMW is to be stored in yellow bags as per the CPCB rules. MCG is providing yellow bags free of cost to quarantine homes. The waste collected by the agency is further deposited at the CBWTF.

(Waste pick up schedule of vans circulated in the citizen WhatsApp groups. Pic: Monika K. Gulati)

In low-rise independent homes like Nirvana Country, the security guard calls the home and then accompanies the van for collection. The residents come outside and drop the waste into the van on their own. Before COVID-19, segregated kitchen waste, recyclables and reject were collected on a daily basis by one collector. The kitchen waste was sent for composting, recyclables sold and rejects sent to the landfill. E-waste collections were done on a quarterly basis.

In high-rises like Nirvana Close South, the facility manager informs the quarantine home on the arrival of the pick-up van. A housekeeping staff equipped with gloves and mask, collects the waste from the home and deposits it in the van parked in the basement. The yellow bags are provided by the RWA of Close South.

In the case of a high-rise like Laburnum, waste is pre-collected by the housekeeping staff and stored for collection, minimising the waiting time for the van.

Waste being picked up by MCG van in a yellow colored bag as per the guidelines. Pic: Nirvana RWA Close South

Troubles on the ground

There are challenges being faced at various levels. Each community or RWA has its own collection system of waste which at some point ties up with what the city is doing. There is an urgent need to understand the gaps so that they can be bridged and there are no ill effects on any stakeholder.

The focus on the separate collection of BMW has been missing from the beginning – so this is new for most households. Segregation is not followed throughout Gurugram. Though almost 107 communities have come on board by May 2020.

What are the challenges that different stakeholders are facing?

Challenges for the CBWTF 

1. Household organic waste (wet waste) and recyclables (dry waste) come mixed with the biomedical waste. Single-use plastic waste (dry waste) is voluminous and ends up taking a lot of space, which puts stress on storage at the facility.

2. Incinerators are not meant to burn organic and plastic waste. The Air Pollution Control Systems (APCS) – get choked due to the fumes generated. Vulcan is using 1200 German-made ceramic filters with 0.1-micron pores that get clogged with indiscriminate incineration, putting a burden on their operational costs.

4. The MCG has hydraulic vans to collect and deposit the waste at the CBWTF. Since the vans throw the waste from a height, the bags break on their fall to the ground spilling the infected waste and putting the workers at risk.

5. Payments are not cleared on time either by the government or by the private clinics and hospitals, causing undue stress on the agency. Incoming revenues have been a challenge since the lockdown began. The agency is operating on 40% payments collected during the lockdown to manage a 70-member staff team.

6. There is no clarity if the government is going to cover the workers of the facility, if infected, under its insurance scheme. The facility is a private service provider serving the whole city under essential services.

Challenges for MCG/Agency – Ecogreen

1. Regular training of staff is required, as there is high attrition in this sector, with workers moving to their villages and a growing unwillingness to work in the city waste sector (even more so with infected waste). Ironically, the workers feel that there will be nobody to fend for them if they get infected, including the hospitals they service. Seeing the situation, villages seem like a safer haven with known people around.

2. Creating awareness amongst residential and community users of the facility about the need for depositing segregated waste

3. Monitoring the quality of waste as it cannot be opened.

“The biggest challenge is the collection of biomedical waste from high rise societies. If the collection is from the  9th or 10th floor, the vehicle has to stand waiting close to 30 minutes as people are not ready and collection takes a lot of time in spite of the home being informed in advance. Sometimes, the workers are asked to climb 10 floors and not allowed to use the lifts.”

Sonia Dulhan, Nodal officer for BMW Collection, Gurugram

Currently, there are 400 homes for collection, but with numbers rising, it could be 2000 homes in the future.

Challenges for communities

1. Regular waste collection system in communities is under duress with workers shortage.

2. No clear communication or monitoring to residents on the quality and level of segregation needed by MCG/Ecogreen or the agency.

3. Staff is nervous to pick up ANY waste from a quarantine home as a result of which mixed waste is going to the CBWTF.

4. With quarantine moving to lanes and floors rather than the whole community there is uncertainty on how the waste pick-up for neighboring homes of the effected is to be handled.

5. No waste is picked up in the initial days. Three days lapse after the positive report comes out, before the MCG is able to add the quarantine home to the collection list. Communication travels slowly from the testing centre to the health officer to MCG – there is no real-time tracking.

The way forward

  1. Collection workers and those at the CBWTF should be tested for COVID-19 regularly and should be mandatorily given Hepatitis and Tetanus injections. This will give them confidence in their ability to stay safe while working with hazardous material. The responsibility should lie with ULB/BMWF owners
  2. Clear communication strategy with leaflets, social media and radio campaigns are called for, to inform and make people aware of the importance of segregation — which kind of segregated waste goes to which destination with the do’s and dont’s for citizens. The responsibility for this lies with the ULB
  3. Make people aware of the importance of minimisation of disposable single-use cutlery and crockery, unless totally necessary – The responsibility lies with the ULB in part and also civil society and NGOs
  4. High rise communities need to be more supportive and must invest in reusable PPE suits for waste workers to collect contaminated waste. It should be kept stored prior to the arrival of the collection vehicle. The waste can be sprayed with 1% sodium hypochlorite solution and stored away from the other waste streams. The responsibility for this lies with RWAs.
  5. Real-time tracking and addition of the COVID-19 positive home to the quarantine list should be done as soon as the diagnosis is received, so that there is no lag in collection services or danger of infected material reaching the city waste. The MCG must take responsibility for this.
A leaflet informing residents of Nirvana Country about recommended waste management practices.

An example from the community

At Nirvana Country, Gurugram, there are sustained, focused attempts towards ensuring that only segregated biomedical waste goes to the CBWTF.

We have created composters out of bins and are going to give all quarantine homes a bin, a sack of leaves and bio enzyme. We want to encourage them to keep adding their kitchen waste to the composters which can be emptied out at the compost plant once they have finished the quarantine period. 

Residents are also being encouraged to keep their dry waste separate and hand it over to the Nirvana waste collector at the end of their quarantine period.

This process has just been designed, and hopefully in the days to come, we will be able to implement it successfully with the cooperation of the residents.

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