COVID-19 medical waste beyond PH disposal capacity, says DENR

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 13 2021 06:23 PM

Members of the Hospital housekeeping staff of the Amang Rodriguez Hospital in Marikina City dispose healthcare waste into a containment facility on September 30, 2020.
Members of the Hospital housekeeping staff of the Amang Rodriguez Hospital in Marikina City dispose healthcare waste into a containment facility on September 30, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - The Philippines' current medical waste is beyond the country's existing capacity for disposal, an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said Monday.

In the agency's budget briefing with the House Appropriations Committee, Environmental Management Bureau assistant director Eng. Visminda Osorio said that as of last June, the total generated healthcare waste weighed more than 634 million metric tons, including personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits.

"The capacity of existing TSDs (treatment, storage and disposal) facility ... is approximately 15,383.19 metric tons per day," Osorio explained.

“As of this 2021, based on our record ... there are 5,615,123 metric tons per year. So the generated health care waste, as of June 20, 2021, approximately increased (by) 11.30% of the total capacity of the existing TSD facilities nationwide," he added.

Osorio said there are 47 TSD facilities in the country, and only 25 cater to hazardous waste that amount to 95,634 metric tons a day.

"TSD facilities are not enough to cater (to) the health care waste (being) generated nationwide because, at this time, there are only TSDs located within Regions 3, 4A, NCR, 1, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 10 that has the capability to treat the healthcare waste generated in the country,” he said.

Osorio said healthcare waste facilities were advised to do initial disinfection prior to disposal. 

“Part of the regions that have no TSD facility do it through safe burial or concrete vaulting within the premises, as allowed based on the (Department of Health) healthcare waste management protocol," he said.

DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones said they are now requiring these parts of regions without proper facilities to undertake treatment of hospital waste.

"We have already conducted a consultation with the local government units and (may) MOA na po kami sa DILG so that we can assist the local government units on how they can dispose of these PPEs," he said.

The DENR recognizes the increase in the volume of medical waste because of the pandemic, Leones said.

“Ang ginawa natin unlike before... konting sanitation lang ginagawa natin diyan at dinidretso na lang natins a landfill. But because of this special policy naging special waste na po ito, 'yang mga PPEs (ay) special waste so that di na lang po sila dapat konting sanitation," he said.

Probinsiyano Ako Rep. Jose Bonito Singson, however, was not satisfied with the DENR's statements to address the medical waste issue.

"They should issue clear guidelines already to guide the LGUs and all the other agencies and everybody else for the general public to follow on how to properly dispose of these considered toxic," he said.

Leones promised to share a copy of the sought guidelines with the House of Representatives.

Philippine Hospital Association President Dr. Jaime Almora in August said waste management is getting difficult for hospitals, since a bulk of the hazardous waste is made up of used intravenous plastic bottles, and there is a separate fee being collected by third-party treatment, storage, and disposal facilities for these.

Almora said the DENR and Department of Health have set rules for hospitals to segregate regular hospital waste from COVID-19 waste and hazardous waste. But because of the surge in COVID-19 cases, these rules are probably already being neglected by some hospitals. 

Environment Undersecretary for Solid Waste Management Benny Antiporda said the DENR in 2020 created a COVID-19 waste management plan, which covers the segregation and treatment of COVID-19 and hazardous waste.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has released a memo circular instructing local government units to adopt the said plan, but not all LGUs may have followed the protocols, he said.

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