K'taka's Covid vaccine drive: Biomed waste a big issue

Post-vaccination, tackling mounds of biomedical waste an uphill task for Karnataka

The Centre has ordered 60 crore syringes to vaccinate the 30 crore primary recipients in two doses in the country

Crores of expended vials of the vaccine and used syringes, plus discharged packets of associated drugs such as PCM and Vitamin A tablets and bottles are expected to end up for incineration or burial. Credit: AFP

With Karnataka set to carry out its largest immunisation programme in history, biomedical waste companies could be dealing with mammoth quantities of waste generated by the programme, experts warned.

Crores of expended vials of the vaccine and used syringes, plus discharged packets of associated drugs such as PCM and Vitamin A tablets and bottles are expected to end up for incineration or burial.

Minister for Health Dr K Sudhakar said that a minimum of 9.2 lakh syringes will be required for the vaccination of healthcare workers in the first phase. “These will be allotted by the Centre,” the minister said, adding that the government is planning to use single-use, auto-disable (AD) syringes during the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

The Centre has ordered 60 crore syringes to vaccinate the 30 crore primary recipients in two doses in the country.

As per a new vaccination protocol issued by the Centre, expired and discarded vaccines vials, expired drugs and cotton contaminated with blood are either to be autoclaved or boiled with chemicals before being transferred to a Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facility (CBTWF), of which 27 such centres exist in the state, including two in Bengaluru.

Syringes are also supposed to be handed over to privatised CBTWFs mandated by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) to incinerate them or bury them deep. 

While deep pits are available only in remote areas, the “incineration capacity of Karnataka is 65 tonnes per day,” said Srinivasulu, member secretary of KSPCB. He said this capacity came close to being exceeded several times during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak in the state.

According to KSPCB data, 2,401.52 tonnes of Covid-19 waste has been generated in Karnataka since March. Out of this 2,400.83 tonnes have been either incinerated or buried. The balance of 689.65 kg was not disposed of properly. 

Daily disposal numbers are better. On Wednesday, 0.6 tonnes of Covid-19 waste was generated in the state, all of which was disposed of, according to the KSPCB. But several independent waste management experts warned that the disposal capacity has already been reached.

“The state will not be able to handle the extra capacity imposed by the vaccine because it is not just syringes and vials which need to be disposed of, but also PPEs, gloves and masks adding to the mix,” said Rajesh Babu G M, co-founder of Swaccha.

Colonel Dr H S Ratti of Hindustan Syringes and Medical Devices (HMD) said India has the means to tackle the excess waste. “But only if the government can plan and streamline the biomedical waste disposal procedures,” he said.

However, in Karnataka, the scope for planning is limited because officers do not yet know how much waste will be generated. 

“There is no order yet on how many vaccinations are due to be administered in each district. Once these allocations are laid out, we can try to work out how to dispose of the waste,” said Prabhudev, CEO-2 of KSPCB.