Hospital waste: the collateral damage of coronavirus

Diogo Martins, Portugal – 16 years old

It was relievingly that this week the much awaited Antonov plane landed in Porto with medical help to support the national health system. This time 3.5 million masks, 300,000 caps, 100,000 gowns and other protective materials arrived for the doctors, urses and other health professionals who are on the front line in fighting against covid-19. These 80 tons of disposable personal protective material will end up in a landfill and this will obviously have various repercussions.

Antonov AN-124-100, an air giant, has arrived with 80 tons of protective material that will go directly to the front to fight the new coronavirus. This war on the invisible enemy does, although, cause immense collateral damage, one of which is hospital waste. This type of waste causes a significant environmental impact, since it is disposed of directly into the waste treatment system without any kind of future purpose or reuse due to its contamination.

What is this waste?

Hospital waste is waste resulting from health care activities and, like all types of waste, it also has environmental consequences. Regarding hospital waste, it can be divided into 4 groups through the treatment used to eliminate contaminants, and only up to the second group it can be valued. These 500 m3 of material, which arrived in Portugal recently, are certainly representative of Group 3. According to the DGS, biological hazardous waste or Group III waste is subject to pre-treatment by autoclave, in a licensed unit for that purpose, and is subsequently disposed of in traditional industrial waste landfills.

The individual protection materials used in the fight against the pandemic, due to the safety standards, end up having a short period of use and with this an enormous amount of hospital waste is produced. In these distressing situations in which a state of emergency is declared, the materials are used massively in the fight against the coronavirus. Consequently, this has increased hospital waste in large quantities. For the safety of the population, greater care is needed with the waste, since before its strict treatment, it has a great chance of containing bacteria or other harmful viruses, and is therefore classified as biological risk waste.

Hospital waste in time to fight Coronavirus.

Evidently, studies are also being carried out and solutions are being sought in the treatment area in order to mitigate the effects of hospital waste from this crisis.

National production versus recovery of China’s trade activity

This epidemic will obviously have serious economic and social consequences. There are solutions that are being pointed out to face and to attenuate them, like the production at national level of this type of resources, being this capacity of the Portuguese industry confirmed by the president of Infarmed, Rui Santos, existing in the site of the Ministry of Health indications for Portuguese companies that want to work in this area of production of protective equipment. This option would not only mitigate the foreseeable economic/social effects of the coming crisis, but would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by dispensing the use of air freight transport. An example of this is the “Feed who feeds you” campaign, which according to Minister Maria do Céu Albuquerque, aims to encourage the consumption of local products and the use of local markets.

After the decrease in the emission of pollutants from China between January and the beginning of February, the resumption of the Chinese labor has already caused a further increase in industrial production and the resumption of part of world exports that depended on this large country. Observing this, it is clear that the urgent need for hospital protection materials is promoting the comeback of Chinese industrial production and consequently follows the movement of cargo airplanes around the world. An example of this is the arrival of the Antonov airplane at Porto with tons of individual protection materials, which although indispensable leave a carbon footprint in their transportation.

The pressure of the National Health Service in the need of protection of those who fight against the pandemic and of enormous quantities of materials, justifies the arrival of several air shipments of this size. Despite the urgency that this situation requires, it is important that other solutions are given that promote economic, social and environmental measures for Portugal.


Susana Santa Rita: Interview on classification of hospital waste;

SIC Notícias (01/04/2020): avião Antonov chegou ao porto com 80 toneladas de material de proteção individual [Acedido em 01/04/2020]. Disponível em:

DGS (07/01/2014): o que são resíduos hospitalares e o seu tratamento [Acedido em 29/03/2020] Disponível em:

Saúde mais: Rui Santos afirma que a indústria portuguesa tem capacidade para produzir equipamentos de proteção [Acedido em 02/04/2020] Disponível em:

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