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How to dispose of PPE kits? A new study says on-site incineration may be best

In a first, the study has quantified CO2 emissions caused by PPE kits and studied their potential environmental impact from the ‘cradle to grave’ cycle.

Written by Shivnarayan Rajpurohit | New Delhi | Updated: October 13, 2020 12:39:51 am
PPE kits, PPE kits disposal, CSIR-NEERI, environmental impact of PPE, coronavirus news, indian expressThe study says that the decentralised method will reduce multiple contact points who handle the infected PPE kits. (Photo for representation by Bhupendra Rana)

As India grapples with the coronavirus outbreak, disposal of PPE kits has posed a new challenge to civic bodies across India. To solve this problem, a group of CSIR-NEERI scientists has suggested on-site incineration of PPE kits to reduce infection risk.

A study, titled Sustainable Solution for PPE disposal through LCA Approach, looked at three end-of-life disposal methods — centralised incineration, decentralisd incineration and landfills. LCA stands for life cycle assessment.

The study says that the decentralised method will reduce multiple contact points who handle the infected PPE kits.

“We have proposed that decentralisd incineration is, in the current circumstances, the best way to dispose of PPE kits,” said Hemant Bherwani, the lead author of the study.

CSIR-NEERI director Rakesh Kumar explained that under the centralised system, discarded PPE kits are transported to far-off incinerators, thereby involving more people in handling the waste and causing more transport pollution. The authors said India lacks a robust decentralised way of disposing bio-medical waste.

In a first, the study has quantified CO2 emissions caused by PPE kits and studied the potential environmental impact — air, water and chemical pollution and climate change — of the protective gear from the “cradle to grave” cycle.

“In the present work, the life cycle assessment of PPE kits has been performed… under two disposal scenarios, namely landfill and incineration (both centralised and decentralised) for six environmental impact categories covering overall impacts on both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, which includes global warming potential (GWP), human toxicity potential (HTP), eutrophication potential (EP), acidification potential (AP), freshwater aquatic ecotoxicity potential (FAETP) and photochemical ozone depletion potential (POCP),” reads the paper.

Under the GWP, CO2 emission is the highest. One tonne of PPE kits if incinerated generated 3,814-3,816 kg of CO2. Explaining this, Bherwani said, “It will take at least 100 fully grown trees a year to absorb this much of CO2.”

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environment, Development and Sustainability. Other CSIR-NEERI authors who contributed to the study are Harender Kumar, Amaanuddin Azad, Ankit Gupta, Jitendra Sharma and Nitin Kumar Labhsetwar.

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