How Indonesians Handle the COVID-19 Infectious Waste

None of us are well-prepared for this kind of situation. The first case of COVID-19 hit Indonesia in March 2020. Since then, the country has been dealing with many self-quarantine phases until the current unfortunate event happened: Indonesia had its second COVID-19 emergency wave at the end of June 2021. 

From the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 the government and local environmentalists have been reminding people about the danger of their infectious waste. Together they have been redefining the scope of infectious and medical waste: all of the waste that has been used by the patients, suspects, caretakers, people without symptoms, and medical officers will be treated as infectious waste.

The Boom of Infectious Waste

Redefining the infectious and medical waste category means one thing to the waste management sector: more residual (difficult to recycle) waste to take care of. It’s either another mountain of infectious trash accumulated in the landfill or another dangerous pollutant ends up in the sea. 

The data from Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry in October 2020 has shown that the increased production of medical waste during the pandemic is 1.662,75 tons, which is around 30% to 50% from the before-pandemic production rate.

There’s two solution options:

  1. Burning all the infectious and medical waste without proper waste segregation to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus and other unwanted disease with the risk of losing many great inorganic materials that could still be recycled
  2. Segregating the waste and have a higher risk in COVID-19 disease contracting, especially for the waste management workers#

The Indonesian Government Regulations & Campaign Regarding Infectious Waste

From the beginning of Indonesian COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Indonesian government chose to prioritize health first over everything, so option #1 was taken.

The government released a formal order (Surat Edaran KLHK SE.2/MENLHK/PSLB3/PLB.3/3/20) which was launched in March 2020 that stated that all the medical and infectious waste should be handled and incinerated using a proper incinerator machine by the certified waste treatment facilities or by the certified public hazardous waste management agents.

The order was later readjusted in the 2021’s formal order (Surat Edaran KLHK SE.2/MENLHK/PSLB3/PLB.3/3/21) that was launched in March 2021 due to the increasing number of infectious and medical waste producers such as quarantine homes and test facilities.

The Indonesian citizens are told to disinfect the waste and carefully separate the medical and infectious waste from the rest of the waste. For the non-patient, non-suspect, non-caretakers, and non-medical workers, the fabric reusable medical masks are advised for daily use in order to reduce the number of medical and infectious waste. 

But since the Indonesian COVID-19 second wave attack in June 2021, the government told people to use double masks to prevent the spreading of delta variant virus of COVID-19: 1 disposable medical mask for the inner layer that touches the nose and mouth directly, and 1 reusable fabric mask as the outer layer. 

The Big Question: How to Implement Circular Economy in the Time of Pandemic?

To be honest, in the times when so many lives are lost, environmental protection and circular economy sounds like a really hard topic to fight for. It’s not that people don’t want to listen and try, but their priorities are shifting so fast during the decreasing and increasing number of COVID-19 pandemic cases and deaths.

Waste4Change has conducted research on Jakarta citizens’ behaviour during the pandemic situation in October 2020. It was shown that other types of residual waste from disposable food packaging and package wrappings were also increased during the self-quarantine period.

Infografis Hasil Riset Waste4Change Perihal Sampah Pandemi COVID 19 di Oktober 2020
Waste4Change Research Results Infographic Regarding COVID-19 Pandemic Waste in October 2020 (read full review here)

The waste management operators and recycling agents were called the rear guard of COVID-19 prevention initiatives – they need to be trained exclusively on how to treat the infectious waste and deserve proper health protection. 

We could only hope that we could find a great solution to reduce and offset the number of residual waste that ends up in the landfill – later, after the pandemic situation subsides.

Until then, the best thing would be to stay healthy and stay at home, keep practicing 3R (Reduce-Reuse-Recycle), so we could reduce the number of residual medical and infectious waste together.

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