Management of municipal waste in times of pandemic: control measures

Beatriz Teixeira, Mariana Caldeira & Marta Amaral, Portugal – 19-21 years old

Faced with this pandemic problem, there will be a significant increase in urban waste, which leads to the need to implement measures both for the population in social isolation and for the “cantoneiros”. These measures will also ultimately have implications in recycling.

We are currently experiencing a time of pandemic due to SARS-COV-2 (new Coronavirus), a virus that causes a serious respiratory disease. The entire population has been advised to quarantine at home for prevention, as described in the decree of the President of the Republic No. 14 A/2020, which will lead to a considerable increase in the production of urban waste (waste produced at home). An exponential increase in waste is already expected, since although we are in the first quarter of the year, there is already an exponential increase of waste in residential areas, according to José Pedro Matos Fernandes, Minister of Environment and Climate Action. This increase has implications for their transportation and management, and there is a need to implement temporary measures. On the other hand, the population in isolation will also have to change their habits in order to care for the country’s public health. In 2018 there was a production of 4.95 million tons of waste. Already in 2020, although this situation is happening at the beginning of the year, it is expected that this value will be higher, since by March there has already been a substantial increase in domestic waste in residential areas, according to José Pedro Matos Fernandes, Minister of Environment and Climate Action.

Fig. 1 Correct placement of masks in undifferentiated garbage & Incorrect measurement of placing the mask for recycling // Mariana Caldeira

In order to control and manage this waste, APA (Portuguese Environment Agency) and ERSAR (Water and Waste Services Regulator) have established some measures. Regarding the population in isolation, being infected or not, they have to take precautions and measures such as: putting the waste produced in a bag, filling it no more than 2/3 of the capacity and then placing it in a second bag so that it does not burst; never placing the bags on the floor, always inside a container; placing the gloves, masks and tissues in the common garbage (as can be seen in figure 1, you will find what should be done and what should not be done); not putting “monos”, like furniture, household appliances, etc, next to the disposal points, since their disposal is not a priority; inhabitants living in a door-to-door collection area should put all their waste in a single bag, whether or not it is recyclable, however, if the recycling points are near the dwellings, continue to recycle (as can be seen in figure 3). Some of these measures have been designed in such a way that there is no possible contamination when they are collected.

Fig. 2 Recycling bins in quarantine time (due to COVID-19)

As far as the collection of household waste itself is concerned, some measures imposed are: reinforcement of the disinfection and sanitization of containers, with special attention to the main points of contact (handles, lids, etc.); regular collection of undifferentiated HW, preferably on a daily basis and taking into account the abstention of some workers and the intensification of hygiene practices and the use of personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, gowns) for the “cantoneiros”.

According to statements made by Matos Fernandes to “Capital Verde da ECO Sapo”, after collection, the waste is sent to incineration centres or landfills, where it is later eliminated, destroying possible contaminants. The bags are then no longer opened for manual or mechanical treatment. The Urban Waste Management Systems (Valorsul for the Greater Lisbon area and Lipor for the metropolitan area of Porto) should give priority to incineration, forwarding them directly and without any previous treatment, not breaking the bags. When it is not possible to direct waste to these Systems or when the geographical location does not justify it (other regions), they are placed in landfills. The mechanical treatment of undifferentiated waste is closed, thus reducing the exposure of the workers who work in these units. Although they are not the most appropriate treatments, they are the ones needed at this adverse time and incineration is a form of energy recovery of waste.

Due to these measures, namely the fact that there is not full separation of HW in households, there is less packaging in the ecopoints below for recycling, since about 50% of recycling in Portugal is through mechanical treatment (manual separation of waste). This recyclable waste must be submitted to an isolation period of 72 hours before processing in order to prevent potential contamination once again.

Although there are measures which are not the most appropriate, at the level of recycling for example, they have to be complied with in order to avoid the possible spread of the virus. On the other hand, other measures mentioned of a common nature should continue to be followed, whether or not there are adverse situations, so that there is good and controlled management of municipal waste. Thus, it is the responsibility of the entire population to comply with the deliberations of the Government and of the respective entities in this environment in order to help fight this pandemic, complementing it with isolation, thus ensuring the health of all citizens.

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