Portugal imports hospital waste in times of pandemic

Diogo Martins, Portugal – 16 years old

The Sobrado landfill, in Valongo, continues with the business of importing waste, but this time there is an added concern as it is receiving hospital waste from various parts of the north of the country and also from Italy. This situation caught the attention of the “Jornada Principal” association, which, for fear of the spread of the Coronavirus outbreak, demanded, as a way of mitigating risks to public health, the incineration of such waste with a classification related to its hazardousness of Group 1 and 2 (Group 1 being the lowest degree of danger).

Tons of hospital waste come by boat from Italy to Sobrado, and the Association Jornada Principal (AJP), an environmentalist association, suggests “that the entry of all waste from other countries, which are arriving to Sobrado during this period of pandemic, should be cancelled,” says Diogo Pastor, AJP representative and resident of Valongo. This movement of importing waste, called cross-border movement of waste, in this case hospital waste, may bring danger to workers and residents, and Diogo Pastor adds that “for us the risk should be equal to zero”.

Although these accusations continue to be made, the government has already defended itself by making sure that these imported waste has no or very low infectious potential. This is justified by the fact that the period of transportation of this waste is long, it means, the virus has a time, although uncertain, for its activity to continue, and if that time is exceeded, the conditions that the government has mentioned will occur and there will be no great risk. However, the environmentalist association of Valongo is not satisfied with this explanation, “if we are dealing with a virus that is still unknown to the scientific environment, it is a highly contagious virus as we see by the number of Portuguese doctors and health professionals, who use all types of personal protective equipment (PPE) and yet are contaminated, this means that we should not underestimate the degree of danger of this virus,” opposes Diogo Pastor.

The engineer sustains his statements by stating that of the almost 11000 health professionals, we have about 1500 infected, which in fact is an alarming number due to the high protection used by them, which proves that the virus has an unknown but high degree of contagion. This argument is reinforced by the study recently published in “The Lacent”, which found that in protective materials, such as masks, Sars-coV-2 can after all be present for up to seven days. This research has thrown down many arguments that have been used in relation to the lifetime of the virus in inert materials, generating more doubts and fears.

Hospital waste classified as contaminated, such as masks, gowns or glove.

After much struggle, AJP managed to make this waste not go directly to the landfill, treated and manipulated as mere domestic waste that it is not. The Government then opened up a new possibility for this group 1 and 2 waste from hospitals to be incinerated as well, taking into account its unknown danger. The APJ has therefore met the requirements for the incineration of waste and one of its major problems has been solved. The incineration of waste is a measure that certainly drastically reduces the dangerousness of this hospital waste, but it also has negative aspects, namely it is a factor in the emission of polluting gases. However, this can be controlled from filters. Incineration can also be an indirect form of waste recovery, since the heat produced by it can be used.

The decision of the Portuguese state pleased AJP, but with this decision the government took two more which, on the other hand, were no longer so pleased. The second decision taken by the government was to increase the working time of the landfill, which became operational 24 hours a day. In addition, the government also allowed the exemption of filling in the E-gars, waste registration documents that enter the landfill. Without these records, there is no control and monitoring of the waste that goes to the landfill. In addition to this measure, Diogo Pastor states “that it is a measure that has no basis because we believe that it is a step backwards in waste management, that is, it is not because we are in a state of emergency that the compliance with the law should be disregarded in terms of filling in the waste data”.

Once again the problem of importing waste is raised, adding another negative point to the crisis that the pandemic has brought. Despite these different events, the import of hospital and non-hospital waste continues, alleging compliance with contracts signed, which overrides the state of emergency experienced by the whole of Portuguese society. The contracts will continue to be fulfilled until May, a date agreed by the government and Diogo Pastor adds to this information that “It is not the landfills that benefit from the waste reception contracts, but the Portuguese state, that is, the state that negotiates with other countries, which is shameful.

After these denunciations, the government finally promised that “from May, when the contracts end, Portugal will not receive more waste to the landfill, that is, it can receive waste for energy recovery, but not for the landfill,” believes the representative of AJP. Diogo Pastor refers to this last promise as “a good measure for all as a result of the denunciations of the Jornada Principal”.


Interview with Diogo Pastor, representative of Associação Jornada Principal

SIC Notícias (02/04/2020): Todos os resíduos hospitalares durante a pandemia de Covid-19 vão ser incinerados em Valongo [Acedido em 4/04/2020]. Disponível: fbclid=IwAR28sGkVIfVDyQbEsltD1ZVhBT_LAS3cjqv0YUZImqaPyH37hqEF3V9Ad4U

Saúde mais (1/04/2020): Covid-19: Governo refuta contaminação em aterro de resíduos importados e hospitalares. [Acedido em 6/04/2020]. Disponível:

The Lancet (02/04/2020): Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions. [Acedido em 10/04/2020]. Disponível em:

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