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Pandemic Response Generates Thousands of Tons of Covid Waste

  • Scale of issue much larger than litter from disposable masks
  • Risk of needle injuries, exposure to pathogenic microorganisms
Vaccinations in New Delhi as Covid May Have Claimed as Many as 5 Million Lives in India
Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg

The response to the pandemic has produced tens of thousands of tons of extra medical waste, challenging disposal systems and threatening human health and the environment, according to a World Health Organization report. 

To get a sense of the scope of the problem, the WHO examined the fate of 87,000 metric tons of personal protective equipment, such as rubber gloves and masks, that were shipped around the world through a United Nations emergency initiative between March 2020 and November 2021. Most of that equipment ended up as waste, the UN agency said.