Last reviewed 7 August 2020

Unions and waste management companies have expressed concerns about government guidance relating to the disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE) as the UK manages the Covid-19 outbreak.

While those in self-isolation are encouraged by the Government to double-bag used PPE and store it for 72 hours before putting it out for disposal, Defra has said there have been no other changes to the guidance on disposing of PPE throughout the pandemic. The recently published update was an exercise in putting guidance that had previously been found elsewhere in one place, Defra said.

Normal health and safety procedures should be followed by waste management companies and their employees as all waste can potentially be contaminated, not just with Covid-19, Defra stated.

Stuart Richards of the GMB trade union: “It is obvious that people need to take simple safety measures when disposing of PPE. The advice just doesn’t do this.

“Instead, the Government is passing on an increased risk to waste workers.

“Actively encouraging people to put potentially infected material in general waste or even litter bins, without any other safety measures, is just plain negligent.”

He added: “GMB members working in the waste industry do an incredibly difficult job. The Government is putting in place even more potential hazards to their health and safety.

“GMB Union will continue to fight on behalf of our members and challenge this half-baked guidance.”

Edwin Briers of waste management company Wm. M. Briers & Son (Tamworth) Ltd has written to the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency, saying the guidance represents an increased and unnecessary risk to employees who work within the waste and recycling industry.

His company has suspended manually sorting loads of mixed non-hazardous waste as a precaution and is trying to collect waste PPE separately as 150202 — a category ascribed to absorbents, filter materials (including oil filters not otherwise specified), wiping cloths and protective clothing contaminated by hazardous substances under the European Waste Codes.

As businesses increase their use of PPE, in his letter to the Environment Agency, Bryers questions whether the advice breaches the duty of care legislation which makes provision for the safe management of waste to protect human health and the environment.

According to the European Centre for Diseases Prevention and Control (ECDC), there is currently no evidence to infer that standard waste management procedures are unsafe or insufficient in terms of the risk for Covid-19 infection or that household waste plays a role in the transmission of Covid-19 or other respiratory viruses.