EcoWaste Coalition Pushes for Waste Segregation at Source to Promote Occupational Safety and Health among Waste Workers as COVID-19 Cases Breach One Million Mark

27 April 2021, Quezon City.  As COVID-19 cases in the country breached the one million mark (with 914,952 recoveries, 16,853 deaths and 74.623 active cases), a waste and pollution watchdog group called attention to the necessity of segregating waste at source to protect waste workers from getting infected.

In a statement issued on the eve of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on April 28, the EcoWaste Coalition emphasized the need to separate COVID-19 waste and other pathogenic waste from recyclable and compostable materials to keep waste workers, especially the informal recyclers, safe from harm caused by exposure to the novel coronavirus and other pathogens.

We reiterate our plea to all waste generators to separate discarded  materials at the point of generation to keep our environmental frontliners such as the waste workers safe from COVID-19 and other diseases,” stated Jove Benosa, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.  

Used face masks, tissues, wipes and other potentially infectious waste should not be mixed with other discards and should be properly disposed of to avoid them from polluting our streets and the oceans,” he said.

While SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is mainly passed on from person-to-person through respiratory droplets, studies suggest that the virus can remain on some materials for varying amounts of time, the group said.

"For waste collectors and recyclers," according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "potential sources of exposure include having close contact with a coworker or member of the public with COVID-19, or by contacting surfaces touched or handled by a person with COVID-19."

We therefore need to keep COVID-contaminated waste materials separate from recyclables and compostables to reduce risk of exposure among waste collectors and recyclers who often handle trash with minimal protection,” he pointed out.

The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as protective garments, gloves, glasses and shoes, the lack of access to water and soap or hand sanitizers, and the poor compliance to mandatory waste segregation at source makes the job of waste workers prone to occupational hazards, the group emphasized.

To prevent and reduce occupational hazards, we request the public to make waste segregation a habit, while we ask the local governments and disposal sites to ensure waste workers’ access to PPE and to hand washing stations with water and soap or hand sanitizers,” Benosa said.

Recognizing the vulnerability of waste workers to COVID-19 and other diseases, the EcoWaste Coalition and other environmental groups have come together to request the government to include waste workers as a priority population group for the ongoing vaccination program.

Ensuring early access to COVID-19 vaccine will undeniably provide health and economic benefits to our waste workers and their families,” they insisted.