Outbreak results in increased PPE waste at a central Alberta dump

AHS says such materials are considered safe for the landfill

Bags of PPE waste seen recently at Ponoka’s Waste Transfer Station. (Image submitted)

Bags of PPE waste seen recently at Ponoka’s Waste Transfer Station. (Image submitted)

COVID-19 has left its mark, impacting people’s livelihoods and lifestyles in numerous ways.

One impact you may not have considered much is the increase of waste due to high volumes of personal protective equipment (PPE) being used, especially during outbreaks.

As gowns, masks, gloves and face shields must be discarded once used due to potential contamination and to prevent transmission, they naturally create more waste.

But how is that waste being taken care of?

If you’ve taken a load of household garbage to the Town of Ponoka’s Waste Transfer Station (located north of town on 46 St.) lately, you may have noticed bags of used gowns and masks.

“In a time when people are suffering already in every way, businesses are investing so much doing their part to protect everyone as they try to control this pandemic, this was concerning on every level to us,” said Ponoka resident Mary Lynn Ellingson.

Ellingson was recently at the dump and shot a video of what she saw, showing piles of bags filled with various PPE waste. She says all the PPE waste should be incinerated.

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre on Dec. 9 and Alberta Health Services (AHS) says this has resulted in an increase of PPE waste.

“Like other sites, Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre has had a significant increase in the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) being used by staff,” said AHS in a statement.

“In turn, this is leading to more waste generated from sites.”

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PPE waste is collected by AHS’s Environmental Services staff as part of their general waste collection.

AHS says such materials are considered safe for the landfill as it is not considered to be hazardous or bio-medical waste as PPE is not usually contaminated with blood or bodily fluids when treating COVID-19 positive patients.

If it is contaminated, there is a process in place at the site to dispose of PPE as bio-medical waste.

“AHS works closely with contracted waste providers to make certain that all waste is handled properly, and will continue to work with our vendors to safely and effectively dispose of all waste now, and in the future.”

The Town of Ponoka stated that waste from one private care facility in Ponoka is dumped at the town’s Waste Transfer Station.

According to the town, the approved waste may consist of items such as diapers, gowns and gloves and is similar to those items disposed of by households.

There is no regulated bio-medical waste received at the transfer station as bio-medical waste is disposed of by licensed operators at approved facilities, says the town.

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