The Asian Voice

Discarded masks must be properly disposed of: China Daily contributors

In the article, two experts share their views on how to correctly dispose of used masks, as more people are donning face masks to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus.

A worker produces protective face masks at a factory in Qingdao in China's eastern Shandong province on Feb 6, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) -As used face masks may carry germs involving the coronavirus, they shouldn't be randomly discarded as waste.

Since the virus can survive for one or two days in humid conditions, the used masks may become a new source of infection.

If the waste masks are tossed in a confined space such as an elevator, they may contaminate the environment, posing a potential threat to people within it.

Also, it is inappropriate to mix contaminated masks with household waste.

Given the garbage sorting is currently implemented in only a few cities, mixed waste commonly exists.

The mixture of polluted masks and recyclable waste may cause a potential danger to rubbish collectors when they put hands in the waste bins to collect recyclable items.

Worse, if someone just throws a used mask on the street, someone might pick it up, or worse try to collect them to sell second-hand.

Thus, it is necessary for the government to encourage people to make sure the used masks are safely recycled and disposed of. Special trash cans should be set up in communities as centralized disposal points for the used masks of residents.

If no special garbage bins are available, residents could spray disinfectant on both sides of their used masks and fold them up before putting them into a sealed plastic bag in the dustbin.

For the safety of others and themselves, residents have to take care of their used masks. Disinfecting them will help ensure the used masks do not become a second source of the coronavirus.

Masks should be treated as medical waste

The protective gear already used by medical staff and patients is already designated as medical waste. The medical waste management regulation was enacted the same year as the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2002-2003, which sets out clear rules on the classification, collection, transportation and disposal of infectious medical waste.

Given the regulation, hospitals in China already have a mature procedure to follow in dealing with medical waste.

However, with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, there has obviously been a high demand for protective equipment such as face masks among ordinary people, with the subsequent generation of a huge quantity of what may be considered medical waste.

Thus, the problem is how to cope with this mass of medical waste, particularly the used face masks discarded outside of hospitals.

Communities should place some special trash cans around to collect used masks. If not available, people had better wrap the waste into plastic bags before throwing them away, so they are not exposed to the air.

However, stricter rules must be implemented once cases of novel coronavirus are confirmed in a community.

Once those affected are found, people need to handle polluted masks in such communities according to regulations on disposing medical waste.

According to the regulation, only licensed companies should collect, transport and do the final disposal of medical waste.

For example, the medical waste must be collected in special containers, and be transported by special vehicles by qualified people.

As the main hazard of medical waste is infectivity, disinfection, no matter whether by steam, chemicals or microwave, is very important.

Since the Sars outbreak in 2003, many cities have built special disposal sites for medical garbage.

After disinfection, the hazardous waste can be sent for incineration in the special facilities, or sent to the incineration plants or landfills set for household rubbish.

Jiang Rongmeng is a chief physician at the Infection Centre of Ditan Hospital. Jiang Jianguo, a professor specialised in hazardous wastes at the School of Environment in Tsinghua University. China Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organisations.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.