Earth Day

Medical waste piles up as PH celebrates Earth Day in pandemic

Iya Gozum
Medical waste piles up as PH celebrates Earth Day in pandemic

MEDICAL WASTE. A worker from the Metro Manila Development Authority shows some medical waste collected during a clean-up in Manila Bay on April 15, 2021.

Rappler

‘If every Filipino will use a disposable face mask every day, that’s 100 million a day, or 3 billion a month, of disposed face masks,’ says Ramon San Pascual, executive director of Healthcare Without Harm Southeast Asia, in a Rappler Talk interview

As the number of COVID-19 cases increases, the amount of medical waste also rises. 

Face masks are critical in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but the increased use of masks has resulted in a dramatic spike in mask waste, along with other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE).

In the Philippines, the medical waste items generated during the pandemic are gloves, face masks, and PPE.

“If every Filipino will use a disposable face mask every day, that’s 100 million a day, or 3 billion a month, of disposed face masks,” said Ramon San Pascual, executive director of Healthcare Without Harm Southeast Asia, in a Rappler Talk interview

Medical waste piles up as PH celebrates Earth Day in pandemic

The Philippines has generated 52,000 metric tons of medical waste since the start of the lockdown in March 2020, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). This is equivalent to 2 million sacks of rice, with each sack containing 25 kilograms of rice. 

Pascual lamented that most of the medical waste would not be recycled or undergo proper treatment, but “will just go to our rivers, and finally to our oceans.” 

Globally, people have used and disposed of 129 billions face masks. Environmentalists say this is a potential environmental threat that may become the next plastic problem.

What we can do

Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, called the medical waste problem an “ecological crisis.”

During the Pandesal Forum in Quezon City on Thursday, April 11, Saño advised the public to make use of reusable face masks and face shields “to avoid further damage [to] the environment.” 

However, he said he would defer to medical experts since they are the ones who test and approve the best face masks against infectious diseases. 

In the same forum, House Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda, who had pushed for environment-friendly policies, reminded the public to properly segregate at home in accordance with the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. 

This means that every household must have at least 3 trash bins, separating the biodegradable items from non-biodegradable and the recyclable ones, said Legarda.

Proper disposal of masks is crucial for the safety of public health and the wellbeing of the environment. The Department of Health has reminded Filipinos and healthcare facilities to properly dispose of medical and hazardous wastes, segregating them from general waste.

Restoring the planet in crisis

Earth Day 2021’s theme, “Restore our earth,” fits the situation that the people and environment are suffering from. 

“The way we have treated the planet and the way we have pursued economic development destroyed the planet,” said Saño. “If not for the way we have treated nature, zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 would not jump easily.”

He said it is time to seriously think of a better normal with “different ways of pursuing prosperity and progress” that does not endanger the planet. Rappler.com

Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum is a member of Rappler's digital communications team. When off the grid, she’s either a hundred/thousand meters above sea level – or dreaming about it. You may email her at iya.gozum@rappler.com.