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Proper Manufacturing Waste Disposal During COVID-19

April 20, 2020
Many items that were easily disposed before may be identified as hazardous now, so manufacturers may need to review and revise handling, storage and disposal practices.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the volumes of plant waste across all industrial sectors, including manufacturing. Many items that were easily disposed before are identified as hazardous now. Gloves, tissues and towels, masks and soiled clothing — many of these things require new handling techniques, and properly so. The virus is highly contagious and can live on surfaces for days at a time. Mitigating as much as possible the spread of potential infection is the only way to fight the pandemic.

Essential businesses must continue operating, and many manufacturers are necessary for the economic stability of the country. Many are even life-sustaining operations, as some manufacturers have quickly established life-saving product lines — like respirators and face masks.

Manufacturers that typically do not deal with infectious or biohazardous waste may not have a clear protocol or response plan. Manufacturing waste and current waste-disposal plans do not necessarily touch on what to do in such a situation. However, some existing resources can help business leaders figure out the next steps to take.

What wastes are being created? In general, manufacturing waste is the same as it’s always been. It’s business as usual for conventional operations. Manufacturing waste-service providers and disposal companies are still working around the clock to deal with refuse, but things are changing regarding organizations' COVID-19 (or, coronavirus) response.

Cleanliness and sanitation are a significant part of preventing the spread of the virus. Surfaces, tools, and machinery all must be decontaminated before and after use. Disinfecting wipes, cleaning tools, rags, paper towels, mops, and brooms all must be handled appropriately, as if they are highly infectious (because they could be infectious.) The same is true for masks, gloves, clothing, or outfits and other personal protective equipment.

Another new type of waste created by pandemic-response programs comes from handling the chemicals used for cleaning and decontamination. Manufacturers will be using a lot more of these supplies, which means there will be an increase in waste from them, including storage containers, leftover chemicals, and more.

If these new materials and leftovers call for biohazard or medical waste-treatment plans, will manufacturers need to adopt further handling, storage and disposal policies?

What does CDC recommend? The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) merely recommends sticking with standard cleaning practices, albeit with a more proactive approach to cleaning frequented areas or surfaces. In other words, teams and organizations will not have to clean any more than they usually would. They will have to make sure that they are regularly disinfecting.

This also means encouraging employees to do things like wash their hands, avoid touching their faces and vulnerable body parts, and maintain a suitable distance from each another — at least 6 feet of space is recommended.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) further advises following personal protective equipment standards as warranted, based explicitly on job hazards and environmental conditions.

As for plant waste, not all of it has to be treated as infectious. Laundry, fabrics, food service utensils and dishes and similar items can be cleaned via routine procedures. Most state health and environmental agencies recommend treating only direct medical waste as infectious. That would include anything used for the immediate treatment of COVID-19, or patients who are verified infected. Blood and other bodily fluids should be handled as potentially infectious as a standard protocol, anyway.

Manufacturers should not be managing the related types of waste any differently than they already are doing.

Ultimately, it’s not necessary to treat all waste — even new cleaning wastes — as infectious or hazardous. That said, there are best practices for dealing with the related types of garbage.

Waste disposal best practices. Considering the CDC recommendations, it’s still wise to follow safe and clean protocols. Teams do not necessarily have to treat disinfectant supplies as infectious waste, but these items should always be properly labeled and disposed.

Employees must not reuse cleaning supplies while disinfecting surfaces or spaces, and trash should always go to the proper waste bins.

All team members should wear the appropriate protective gear at all times. Furthermore, safe-distance protocols are necessary, as mentioned above.

Existing waste-disposal operations — including handling of regular manufacturing waste — should see no process or protocol changes. Hazardous chemicals and materials still should be treated as such, while general trash can be binned and disposed of the same it has been in the past.

For more information regarding waste-handling and disposal, manufacturers should visit one of the many available resources, including:

  CDC’s Website

  World Health Organization

For local information, manufacturer should also consult local agencies' resources, including most state and county sites. Many local governments have suggested standards that are specific to the circumstances and conditions in their areas.

Kayla Matthews writes about the IoT, IIoT, automation and smart technologies for publications like InformationWeek,, Robotiq others. Follow Kayla at her personal tech blog, Productivity Bytes.

About the Author

Kayla Matthews | Freelance Journalist

Kayla Matthews writes about the IoT, IIoT, automation and smart technologies at her personal tech blog, Productivity Bytes, and for publications including InformationWeek,, Robotiq, and others.

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