Health Hazard Present in Waste and Recycling Processes

In the UK, the most common method of waste removal is by roadside collection. Typically households put their waste in bins and a fixed day in the week is allotted to the removal of this waste. The municipality or dedicated waste removal company is responsible for waste collection and removal. This waste is sent to transfer stations for bulking and compacting. Thereafter, it is sent to the processing facility. However, sometimes waste, such as e-waste, is exported to another country.

Waste Collection

Back to Work, Boys” by Danielle Scott; Source: Flickr/ CC BY-SA

On the other hand, high volumes of waste, such as that produced during refurbishment or construction of homes, extensive landscaping or spring cleaning, is put into skips and then hauled to the waste transfer station.

When the waste is collected and sorted out, it often involves the workers having to manually pick up some materials wherein erroneously segregated waste is encountered. Thus, workers handling the collection and sorting are at a high risk for health problems. These health problems can range from simple ailments to life-threatening ones, such as tetanus. It goes without saying there is a real health hazard present for workers who deal with waste and recyclables.

Types of Health Hazards

Some of the different health hazards that workers in waste and recycling processes are exposed to include the following:

  • Faecal Matter: This can be present in stoma bags, nappies and adult incontinence pads
  • Carcasses: The waste also contains carcasses of dead animals which may have had diseases that can be transferred to human beings
  • Toxic and Hazardous Liquids: These include household and industrial cleaning products, paints and varnishes and sometimes even acids
  • Animal Waste: This includes straw, hay and waste from hutches, pens and litter trays
  • Rodents: Waste of all types attracts rodents, which are carriers of several infections and diseases
  • Blood-borne Materials: These materials are infectious and include items like syringes, needles, drug paraphernalia and sex litter
  • Other Hazardous Items: Broken glass, metal wires, blades, rusted articles and other sharp items

Methods of Injury or Infection

Workers handling and sorting waste and recyclables can get injured by hazardous materials through four different ways. They are:

  • Skin contact which can occur when the mucous membrane of the eyes, cuts and abrasions are exposed to hazardous materials
  • Accidental ingestion when a dirty hand touches the mouth is another method by which health hazards present in waste and recycling processes can lead to ill health
  • Cuts in the skin when a sharp object is present in the waste and pierces the skin even through protective clothing
  • Inhalation of toxic fumes and odours is the other route through which workers handling waste and recyclables can be exposed to hazardous substances and materials

Employers are legally bound to assess and address the risk that their workers face while handling and sorting out waste and recyclables. They first have to identify the hazards and then the workers who are at risk. Thereafter, the risks from the hazards need to be pinpointed and proper control measures and systems have to be put into place to negate those risks.

It is important to remember that without involving the workers and reinforcing health and safety issues through training and open and honest discussions, it is impossible to avert the risk that waste and recyclable health hazards pose. If handled correctly and carefully, rubbish removal can be completely safe and injury-free.

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