Some officials have suggested persons in quarantine to store garbage through the 14-day period.

Waste piles up in home quarantines for COVID prevention in Kerala with no clear protocol on disposalImage for representation
Coronavirus Coronavirus Wednesday, June 17, 2020 - 19:37

It has been six days since Kozhikode native Suhaila and her one-year-old daughter returned from Chennai to her hometown in Kerala. From day one, it has not been a pleasant experience for Suhaila who chose to stay in her relative’s house in Payyoli for home quarantine. If initially it was the nosy neighbours who raised opposition against her undergoing quarantine in the house, the major concern now is piled up solid waste.

Suhaila’s relatives whose house she is staying in usually give the food waste to stray cats or bury it in a pit. But as Suhaila, her baby and her relative are also in home quarantine, there is one one to dispose of the waste.

“When we raised our concern to the local body officials here, they told me to store the waste and dispose of it after quarantine. But the piled up waste has now started to stink. We can manage the non-biodegradable garbage. But what to do with food waste and diapers of the baby,” asks Suhaila who wonders whether the piled up waste will now pose a health problem.

This is not just an isolated issue. Kerala is yet to come out with a protocol on waste management for people in home quarantine, despite the fact that solid waste generated in institutional quarantine centres are disposed of in a scientific way after treating it with disinfectants. Recently, four sanitation workers who worked in two institutional quarantine centres in Thrissur district tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

A recent Facebook post by a Kerala journalist undergoing home quarantine was widely shared by people. Rekha Chandra, who lives in Kozhikode, had also described in her post how a health inspector whom she contacted to enquire about the issue of waste management, told her that those in home quarantine should not generate waste.

“I had called him to ask this doubt as there were no guidelines given to me on how I should handle the waste at home. But then this officer told me people in quarantine should get rid of waste themselves or not produce garbage. He also added they cannot force Kudumbashree’s sanitation workers to collect the waste. After I posted these things on Facebook, I got a call from him saying this is not what he meant,” says Rekha.

She also added that sanitation workers later came to collect the garbage from her apartment. "But I am not sure if they are doing this in a proper way. When we see, they collect it like any other day, along with garbage from other apartments," she adds.

Meera Unikrishnan, who returned from Mumbai to Kakkanad in Ernakulam, also shares a similar experience. “No one has given any specific instruction regarding this, nor have I asked. The waste is collected by the sanitation workers in the apartment and disposed of in the facility available for compost in the apartment complex. But since we have awareness about the potential threat, we used to spray sanitisers in the garbage before we handle it. There should have been some guidelines on this, because not everyone will care to sanitise the garbage by themselves,” said Meera.

No guidelines

A couple of local body officials TNM spoke to in Kerala were clueless about what needs to be done.

An officer concerned with waste management and health in Thrissur Corporation says there is no system yet to collect waste from people at home quarantined.

“We have asked everyone to dispose of it on their own after the 14-day quarantine period. They can sprinkle sodium hypochlorite and bury the food waste or burn the non-biodegradables,” said the officer. When this reporter pointed out the difficulty in storing degradable waste for two weeks, the official did not have a solution.

A health officer in Thiruvananthapuram Corporation also said that the state government has not released guidelines on the matter.

“We have told people that we will provide compost bins if necessary for biodegradables. Non-biodegradable waste can be stored and can be collected after the quarantine period,” said the officer.

Meanwhile, Dr Gopakumar, health officer of Kozhikode Corporation says that it is important to treat the waste from those in home quarantine carefully as there exists a potential threat.

“Considering the situation in Kerala, we know at least a section of people in home quarantine have turned positive. So there needs to be a vigil. The food waste and non-biodegradable, for example, like drinking water bottles used by the people should be disinfected using sodium hypochlorite to change the pH so that the virus, if any, gets destroyed. Here in Kozhikode Corporation limit, we try to do it,” said Dr Gopakumar.


Battling ostracism along with coronavirus: TN nurses at the end of their tether

Separate room and toilet: Telangana’s home isolation rules impractical for most