Water Currents: COVID-19 and Sanitation


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, health care facilities, individuals, companies, and municipalities are producing more waste than usual, including protective equipment that could be infected with the virus and single-use plastics.

As the pandemic continues to spread, governments and organizations are urged to treat waste management—including wastewater, medical, household, and other solid waste—as an essential public service to minimize the impacts upon health and the environment.

This issue contains recent studies, reports, and blog posts that discuss COVID-19 and wastewater, wastewater surveillance, medical waste, and solid and household waste.

In Focus

Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) and COVID-19: Critical WASH Interventions for Effective COVID-19 Pandemic ResponseWorld Bank, April 2020. Good and consistently applied WASH and waste management practices serve as essential barriers to human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 in communities, homes, health care facilities, schools, and other public spaces.

Policy and Legislation Linked to COVID-19 and PandemicsUN Environment Program (UNEP), June 2020. This policy and legislation guidance is intended  to help countries better respond to future waste emergencies such as COVID-19 and includes information on the types of measures that could be put in place, the coverage and scope of the measures, and how to monitor compliance and enforce the measures.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak: Some Serious Consequences with Urban and Rural Water CycleNPJ Clean Water, July 2020. Conventional sewage treatment methods with disinfection are expected to eradicate COVID-19. However, for densely populated countries like India that lack adequate sewage treatment facilities, chances of contamination are extremely high.

Waste Management: An Essential Public Service in the Fight to Beat COVID-19UNEP, March 2020. With COVID-19 continuing to spread and its impacts on human health and the economy intensifying day by day, governments are urged to treat waste management, including medical, household, and other hazardous waste, as an urgent and essential public service.

Water, Sanitation, Hygiene, and Waste Management for the COVID-19 Virus: Interim GuidanceWHO, April 2020. This interim guidance summarizes WHO guidance on water, sanitation, and health care waste relevant to viruses, including coronaviruses and supplements previous infection prevention and control documents.

Exploring the Correlation Between COVID-19 Fatalities and Poor WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) ServicesMedrxiv, June 2020. In this study, researchers analyzed the latest data on COVID-19 fatality rates in sub-Saharan Africa with indicators of safe water and sanitation governance and found a strong correlation between a higher case fatality rate and poorer access to safe drinking water and safe sanitation.

Global Socio-Economic Losses and Environmental Gains from the Coronavirus PandemicPLoS One, July 2020. Using a global model, the authors of this study captured the direct and indirect spillover effects of COVID-19 in terms of social losses, economic losses, and environmental effects.

Wastewater/Wastewater Surveillance
Wastewater Surveillance for COVID-19: An African PerspectiveScience of the Total Environment, November 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, early warning wastewater systems have been proposed as a platform for surveillance and a potentially important public health strategy to combat the disease. This short communication on wastewater surveillance in sub-Saharan Africa highlights challenges, opportunities, and alternatives taking into account local context.
Wastewater Surveillance for Population-Wide COVID-19: The Present and FutureScience of the Total Environment, September 2020. This article explores wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), which the authors believe holds the potential as a key tool in containing and mitigating COVID-19 outbreaks while also minimizing domino effects, such as long stay-at-home policies that stress humans and economies alike.

Computational Analysis of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Surveillance by Wastewater-Based Epidemiology Locally and Globally: Feasibility, Economy, Opportunities and ChallengesScience of the Total Environment, August 2020. In this study, researchers computationally examined wastewater as a matrix for detection of COVID-19 and found that combined use of WBE followed by clinical testing could save billions of U.S. dollars.

Wastewater-Based Epidemiology: Global Collaborative to Maximize Contributions in the Fight Against COVID-19Environmental Science and Technology, June 2020. The presence of COVID-19 RNA in feces raises the potential to survey sewage for virus RNA to inform epidemiological monitoring of COVID-19, also known as WBE or environmental surveillance.

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Considerations for the Waste and Wastewater Services Sector. Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering, April 2020. This article discusses the potential ramifications of COVID-19 on waste and wastewater services, focusing on critical points where alternative operating procedures or additional mitigation measures may be advisable.

COVID-19 and Wastewater UtilitiesSmart Water Magazine, April 2020. This article highlights the ways COVID-19 has affected wastewater utilities and looks at the outbreak’s impact on utilities, the potential hazards, and the predominant solutions.

COVID-19, Wastewater, and Sanitation: COVID-19 Waste Management FactsheetUNEP, June 2020. COVID-19, wastewater, and sanitation are inextricably linked. This fact sheet explores the problem and facts and provides guidance and recommendations for waste management.

COVID-19 and Recycled Wastewater Irrigation: A Review of ImplicationsPreprints, June 2020. This review examines the hypothesis that COVID-19 may spread through the recycled wastewater irrigation industry, identifies gray water irrigation schemes posing a higher risk of transmission of COVID-19, and suggests irrigation could be critical in protecting stakeholders from possible infections during the pandemic.

SARS-CoV-2 from Faeces to Wastewater Treatment: What Do We Know? A ReviewScience of the Total Environment, November 2020. This review aims to understand the viral load of COVID-19 in feces and sewage and its fate in wastewater treatment plants.

COVID-19: Mitigating Transmission via Wastewater Plumbing SystemsLancet Global Health, March 2020. The interconnectedness of the wastewater plumbing network can facilitate exposure to COVID-19 within, or even between, buildings. This is of particular concern in high-risk transmission settings such as hospitals and health care buildings.

Medical Waste
Managing Infectious Medical Waste during the COVID-19 PandemicAsian Development Bank, April 2020. To support its developing member countries, the Asian Development Bank has compiled a list of considerations and recommendations to enable governments to rapidly respond to unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19.

Household Medical Waste Management StrategiesUNEP, June 2020. As COVID-19 spreads to the developing world, with limited access to medical support, increased numbers of cases will have to self medicate at home. Proper management of household medical waste will become critical to stopping further spread of COVID-19.

National Medical Waste Capacity AssessmentUNEP, June 2020. This fact sheet will help countries in assessing the quantity of infected waste that is potentially produced during COVID-19, and the available technologies that they could use to treat the waste.

COVID-19: The Environmental Implications of Shedding SARS-CoV-2 in Human FaecesEnvironment International, May 2020. Fecal-oral transmission may be an important but not yet  unquantified, pathway for increased exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, safely managing fecal waste from infected, recovering, and recovered patients poses a significant challenge for hospitals.

COVID-19 Faecal-Oral Transmission: Are We Asking the Right Questions? Science of the Total Environment, August 2020. Detection of COVID-19 in stools and sewage has recently been reported, raising the hypothesis of fecal-oral transmission. If confirmed, this could have far-reaching consequences for public health and for pandemic control strategies.

Solid Waste
Waste Management during the COVID-19 PandemicInternational Solid Waste Association, April 2020. This document explores the three overall priorities the association has for waste management during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Waste SectorInternational Finance Corporation, June 2020. Maintaining the delivery of basic urban services, including waste collection and management, is becoming a growing challenge to cities grappling with the fallout from COVID-19. When poorly managed, the waste sector has serious health, safety, and environmental impacts—especially in developing countries, where waste is often burned or discarded in unregulated dumps.

Links to Circularity: Non-Healthcare WasteUNEP, June 2020. This fact sheet suggests COVID-19 waste must be collected and treated adequately to avoid littering or uncontrolled incineration causing impacts to human health, ecosystem quality, and biodiversity, including impacts on soil, rivers, coastal lines, and in the marine system.

Strategy Guidance: Solid Waste Management Response to COVID-19UN HABITAT, May 2020. Although several guidelines exist about the treatment of waste from health care facilities (see references below), guidance is lacking on how to adapt regular municipal waste management services to a pandemic situation. These guidelines seek to address this gap and support decision-makers in developing a solid waste management response strategy for COVID-19.

Repercussions of COVID-19 Pandemic on Municipal Solid Waste Management: Challenges and OpportunitiesScience of the Total Environment, November 2020. The paper recommends alternative approaches for municipal solid waste treatment and disposal and outlines the future scope of work to achieve sustainable waste management during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Challenges, Opportunities, and Innovations for Effective Solid Waste Management during and Post COVID-19 PandemicResources, Conservation and Recycling, November 2020. Changes in the composition of waste generated during the COVID-19 pandemic present considerable new challenges. This article suggests ensuring safe waste management practices should be a part of emergency response services during the pandemic.

Rethinking and Optimising Plastic Waste Management Under COVID-19 Pandemic: Policy Solutions Based on Redesign and Reduction of Single-Use Plastics and Personal Protective EquipmentScience of the Total Environment, November 2020. This paper provides an overview of plastic policies and discusses the readjustments of these policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with their potential environmental implications.

Improper Solid Waste Management Increases Potential for COVID-19 Spread in Developing CountriesResources, Conservation & Recycling, May 2020. Although many governments are taking active measures to contain and reduce the spread of COVID-19, strategies to manage solid waste, including used personal protective equipment, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, are lacking.

“This Is Our Next Problem”: Cleaning Up from the COVID-19 Response. Waste Management, May 2020. COVID-19 will produce an immense amount of waste to be managed. This paper highlights the essential role that solid waste management must play in a humanitarian response toward disasters, in particular the COVID-19 pandemic.

Can the Human Coronavirus Epidemic Also Spread through Solid Waste? Waste Management & Research, April 2020. Inadequate waste management may increase the spread of COVID-19, which highlights the poor handling conditions associated with inappropriate use of personal protective equipment and other unfavorable conditions presented mainly in developing countries.

Rubbish is Piling Up and Recycling Has Stalled: Waste Systems Must AdaptThe Conversation, March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed just how fragile the waste cycle is. Globally, collection services are being reduced because of social distancing, staff absences, and concerns about workers’ health and safety.

Minimising the Present and Future Plastic Waste, Energy and Environmental Footprints Related to COVID-19Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, July 2020. This paper gives a prospective outlook on how the disruption caused by COVID-19 can act as a catalyst for short-term and long-term changes in plastic waste management practices throughout the world.

Correspondence: Shared Sanitation and the Spread of COVID-19: Risks and Next StepsLancet Planetary Health, May 2020. This correspondence calls for research to understand if sanitation contributes to the risk of infection with COVID-19 and if shared sanitation users start to practice open defecation to avoid potential risks at facilities.

Short Communication—SARS-CoV-2 in River Water: Implications in Low Sanitation CountriesScience of the Total Environment, 2020. This is the first report of COVID-19 in river waters highly impacted by sewage. COVID-19 loads detected are similar to wastewater from cities during outbreaks. This article suggests the high values detected in natural waters from a low sanitation region have several implications in health and ecology that should be further assessed.