K’taka biomedical waste management policy needs a relook

Another big gap is to ensure that the full waste generated from each medical unit reaches the assigned waste disposal centre on time.
The problem is there are stringent rules for collection, transportation, disposal and incineration of BMW, yet it continues to be littered in dump yards, road sides and even found in drains.
The problem is there are stringent rules for collection, transportation, disposal and incineration of BMW, yet it continues to be littered in dump yards, road sides and even found in drains.

Though Karnataka introduced a dedicated biomedical waste management policy in 2016 and amended it twice, it continues to have gaps that need to be fixed. It is time for the government and the concerned stakeholders to take a fresh look and set it on order.

While officials and contractors were brushing the anomalies aside since the last five years, citizens, activists and NGOs repeatedly pointed them out, forcing forest, environment and ecology department minister Eshwar B Khandre to take note.

In a recent meeting, he pulled up officials from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and environment department on the lapses and stressed the need to revise Karnataka’s biomedical waste (BMW) management policy.

The problem is there are stringent rules for collection, transportation, disposal and incineration of BMW, yet it continues to be littered in dump yards, road sides and even found in drains.

“There are many unauthorised medical units where BMW is generated. Besides, there are no rules of how to handle and dispose of the BMW generated from homes. Even if the waste is collected separately at homes, it is disposed of as wet waste. The biggest challenge is in handling sanitary pads, bandages and used cotton and syringes, which are disposed of as dry waste,” said an official from KSPCB.

Another big gap is to ensure that the full waste generated from each medical unit reaches the assigned waste disposal centre on time. There are instances where the waste is simply dumped in open drains or water bodies. There is also a lack of coordination between the health department and the KSPCB. There is no single window to check the total number of units, the quantity of waste generated, the expansion plan of each hospital or dispensary and even when setting up new units.

“The pace at which the number of hospitals are mushrooming in the state, especially in Bengaluru, the infrastructure to handle the BMW generated is poor. There is a need for a new policy or at least an amendment in the existing one, fixing the gaps and increasing the capacity,” admitted the KSPCB official.

A standard thumb rule is the generation of 1 kg BMW per bed. The ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change uses this formula for all policy calculations. Experts say that this needs to be changed as post-pandemic, the use of sterilisers, gloves, masks etc has been on the rise.

Karnataka first brought in the BMW management policy in 2016. It was amended in 2018 and then again in 2019. “We have found many gaps in the management and disposal,” noted KSPCB officials.

According to KSPCB data, there are 48,431 health care facilities in the state, of which 8,628 are bedded and 22,216 non-bedded. To manage their waste, various city corporations along with KSPCB’s assistance set up 25 BMW treatment and disposal centres.

While KSPCB officials in the head office in Bengaluru maintain that all of them are functioning, the ground reality, according to NGOs and experts, is different. On many occasions, the waste does not reach them; the incinerating machines are shut due to poor maintenance or the unit is closed because of people’s protest or staff crunch.

The state generates 77,876 kgs of BMW per day from bedded and non-bedded medical centres per day, of which 66,934 kgs is treated each day. Bengaluru alone generates 38,768 kgs of BMW per day.

Besides, there are 1,425 veterinary dispensaries and hospitals in the state generating 493 kgs of BMW per day. There are also 1,161 registered pathological labs in the state, which are not attached to hospitals.

“Apart from this, there are many other labs which are attached to hospitals and dispensaries, but are not registered with either KSPCB or the health department. There are also many unregistered labs generating BMW, which needs to be accounted for. In the new policy, it is also being discussed to make it mandatory for hospitals to manage their own BMW. At present only two large hospitals in Karnataka - KLE’s Dr Prabhakar Kore Hospital and Research Centre in Belagavi and BM Patil Medical College and Research Centre in Vijayapura, the 2,000 bedded hospitals, each, are managing their waste. Similar practice should be followed in all hospitals,” the KSPCB official pointed out.

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