The EcoWaste Coalition, a zero waste advocacy group, urged national government agencies (NGAs), local government units (LGUs) and private service providers to provide ample protection to workers handling waste as the authorities step up preventive measures to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“It’s a common knowledge that workers who handle, collect and dispose of waste, especially unsorted discards that may contain hazardous and infectious waste, are often at serious risk of being exposed to germs, pathogens, sharps, dust and harmful chemicals,” said Jove Benosa, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“Despite the risks involved, waste workers unhesitatingly do their job even without any basic personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety gloves, hats and shoes and face masks. It’s not unusual for them to sort discarded materials to retrieve recyclable items that they can sell to junk shops for added income,” he added.
“Considering the increased disposal of potentially infectious waste such as used face masks and tissues during the COVID-19 outbreak, which are often thrown along with non-hazardous household waste, we thought it would be necessary for concerned NGAs and LGUs to also think about the occupational safety and health of our waste workers in their action plans in response to the situation,” he emphasized.
For the health and safety of waste workers, the EcoWaste Coalition called for strict compliance to waste segregation at source under Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act. The “no segregation, no collection” rule should be strictly enforced, the group insisted.
The group also emphasized the importance of providing waste workers with the right set of PPE, and for them to be provided with essential education and training to minimize exposure to biological, chemical and physical hazards linked to their work.
As some legislators are proposing hazard pay for sectors most vulnerable to exposure to coronavirus, especially frontliners in the medical field, the EcoWaste Coalition suggested the inclusion of waste workers among those who should benefit from such a scheme.
“We believe that waste workers are entitled to hazard pay, especially during this period of COVID-19 pandemic. We hope the public and private sectors will duly consider giving them additional compensation in recognition of their high risk work during these difficult times ,” said Benosa.