Waste-pickers at risk as COVID infected homes do not sanitise garbage, or inform about infection

The PMC has urged people to inform waste pickers about COVID-infected homes and hand garbage after packing it properly and disinfecting it.

Credit : Representative image

Pune: A year after the pandemic began, the stigma and the fear faced by the waste pickers in Pune continues. Several waste pickers across the city have complained that people from whom they collect waste every day keep them in the dark even if there are COVID-19 patients in their house. The waster pickers as well as the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) have urged people to inform waste pickers, as well as give the garbage from COVID-infected homes at least two days later after packing it properly and disinfecting it.

Last year, when the pandemic began, the PMC would send special vehicles in every ward to collect the biomedical waste from the COVID patients. However, while the PMC’s Solid Waste Management Department has stated that there are vehicles making rounds of each ward this time as well, most people have still been seen relying on the waste pickers. “There is a separate vehicle for biomedical waste this time also. However, in case it does not reach all the people, we advise you to keep the garbage packed in your homes an entire day, and then give it to the regular waste pickers,” Ajit Deshmukh, Deputy Commissioner of PMC’s Solid Waste Management Department said.

In fact, that is what the waste pickers associated with SWaCH have suggested too. “We have never denied picking up any waste from any home. But we are scared because people don’t inform us when they have COVID patients. All we want them to do is keep the garbage in their house for at least a day or two, and pack it well and disinfect it before handing it over to us. We are human beings too. But very few people do this,” waste picker Sarita Karadkar said while talking to Indie Journal.

This was especially a problem for the waste pickers when the COVID cases in the city began rising at the end of February, but most patients were in home isolation. “Masks have become common in the garbage over the last year of pandemic. So we have instructed our waste pickers to treat all masks as contaminated and not touch any of them,” said Harshad Barde of SWaCH. 

However, he has also appealed to the people to think of the health of the waste pickers before throwing contaminated garbage of COVID patients openly. He said, “We urge people to cut the masks, gloves, tissue papers used by the COVID patients, spray a disinfectant over it, pack the garbage in a bag and keep it aside. Since it’s all dry waste, it can be given to the waste pickers after the quarantine period of the COVID patients is over. If not this, then at least keep such garbage packed at home at least for two days before giving it to the waste pickers.”

Supriya Bhadakwad, who has been collecting waste in the city for several years said, “There are some good people. They treat us well, they appreciated and honoured us during the last lockdown. But there are some bad experiences too. Many housing societies prohibited us from using the common washrooms there due to the fear of infection. Some would not let us enter the societies, and we would have to collect all the garbage from the society gates." 

"There was no way of telling whose waste it was and if it was contaminated. We have been using masks and gloves throughout, we have been given sanitisers. I have also been vaccinated. But still, a little consideration from the people could help us. Please separate, quarantine and disinfect the COVID patients’ garage before giving it to us!” she adds.