In light of the global coronavirus outbreak, Public Health England has issued advice to the public on how to deal with potentially infectious waste.
However, one clinical expert told letsrecycle.com that so far it was “business as usual”.
Public Health England recommends all waste that has been in contact with any self-isolated individual should be double-bagged and tied to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The waste should not be disposed of or put out for collection until it is known the potential patient does not have Covid-19.
The Public Health England advice reads: “Waste from possible cases and cleaning of areas where possible cases have been (including disposable cloths, tissues, and masks if worn) should be put in a plastic rubbish bag and tied when full.
“The plastic bag should then be placed in a second bin bag and tied.”
Further advice has been issued for the public and for hospitals on what to do with the bags once full.
It says: “It should be put in a suitable and secure place and marked for storage until the individual’s test results are known.
“Children, pets and pests should not be able to access this place. Waste should not be left unsupervised on the pavement awaiting collection.
“If the individual test is negative, this can be put in with the normal waste.
“If the individual tests positive, then place bags in orange or yellow containers or bags and arrange disposal as category B waste.”
Samples of materials such as blood, tissue, excreta and secreta collected from humans or animals are classified as category B infectious waste.
The government health agency also warned that waste should only be collected by those authorised to do so.
It said: “Arrangements need to be made for collection by an appropriate organisation (for example a licensed waste contractor acting on behalf of the local authority).”
However, with all crews expected to wear gloves and follow good hygiene practices, the risk of infection for anyone collecting double-bagged refuse is thought to be small, a waste sector expert told letsrecycle.com.
Some people – usually the elderly or less able – receive assisted collections where operators go further into properties to remove bins rather than collecting them on the kerbside.
This might elicit more interaction but is only thought to be relevant to a small number of cases.
Anyone who has visited countries such as China, Vietnam or Cambodia and exhibits symptoms of coronavirus has been told to take all necessary precautions.
One such individual is BBC journalist Nick Robinson, who on returning from a holiday in Vietnam went into self-isolation.
In an interview with The Mirror, Mr Robinson said being banned from throwing away waste was a reminder the virus could be “deadly serious”.
He has since received the all clear.
While the severity of the virus is not being downplayed, industry experts are appealing for calm.
Fraser Cutting, a clinical waste specialist who has previously worked at Basildon University Hospital and for waste management company Andusia, told letsrecycle.com: “From what I can see, it’s business as usual and there should be no issue at all.
“The procedures to follow are basically the same as for the common cold or the flu.
“We had the Ebola virus a few years ago and this isn’t quite that – the common cold is a form of coronavirus and containment is no issue.”
And Mr Cutting believes the necessary procedures are in place to handle the virus.
He said: “As long as staff training has been undertaken appropriately by everyone at the company – from cleaners to phone operators – it should be fine.”
A spokesperson for the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), told letsrecycle.com the professional body was monitoring the latest advice from Public Health England with a view to keeping patients and collection crews safe.
They said: “CIWM is monitoring the latest guidance on the Public Health England website regarding Covid-19 and the management of waste from healthcare facilities and those in isolation at home.
“CIWM is also working with healthcare experts and local authority members to keep the situation under review and develop further appropriate information and guidance in the event of any significant escalation of cases in the UK.”
In early February, wastepaper sector experts told letsrecycle.com the market faced disruptions on several fronts, including shipping and container shortages and staffing difficulties in financial services overseas and in port administrations, along with the virus posing an overall threat to the global economy (see letsrecycle.com story).