Abstract P. Rudolph – Dangers of Covid-19 for the Circular Economy

In many countries, the Covid-19 pandemic led to a sharp increase in medical waste (Klemeš et al., 2020). In Germany, waste which is generated by the treatment of Covid-19 patients is assigned to the waste code 18 01 04 and disposed without any special requirements (RKI, 2021a). As already suspected, a change in waste generation due to the pandemic was clearly visible in municipal waste in 2020. When comparing the waste balances of eight German cities from 2019 and 2020, an increase of the glass waste volume by 12.1 % was found. This resulted from an increase in glass consumption. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic people’s shopping and eating habits have changed (STMELF, 2021). The second largest increase in waste generation of 6.4%, was registered on bulky waste due to an increase in the use of recycling centers. The increased use of food delivery services, led to 4.8 % more light packaging waste. The amount of biowaste increased by 5.7 % because people stayed at home and more food was consumed at home. All these mentioned changes in waste generation can partly be attributed to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It should also be noted that waste generation always fluctuates somewhat, and apart from the Covid-19 pandemic other reasons may have caused changes in waste generation. Small changes in waste generation, such as in the volume of old electrical equipment of 1.1 %, are attributed to fluctuations between years. In particular, lockdowns and the associated situation had a major influence on waste generation. A decrease in waste generation was only recorded for metals (- 0.9 %) and pollutants (- 3.3 %). There also was a slight decrease in the PPK generation. This is probably caused by an increase in volume due to a higher proportion of cardboard. The waste generated by using medical masks and performing PCR tests has hardly any influence on the waste generation.
In the case of the transmission routes of Sars-CoV-2, the spread of the virus via the air plays the major role. Here, generally, it adheres to liquid particles and can thus hang in the air for up to several hours and be transported over short distances by air turbulence. The aerosols can also deposit on surfaces through sedimentation (GAeF, 2020). The survival time of Sars-CoV- 2 on surfaces is influenced by the relative humidity and temperature. The virus survives longer on smooth surfaces such as plastic (7 d) or stainless steel (7 d) than on porous surfaces such as paper (3 h) or cotton (1 h) (Chin et al., 2020; Kasloff et al., 2020). Data or findings on the transmission of Sars-CoV-2 through solid particles, such as dust or microplastics currently do not exist.
The probability of a smear infection depends on several factors, such as the material, the viral load, and the hygiene measures. Currently, there is no evidence that a Covid-19 disease was ever caused by smear infection. Further information on the infective dose of Sars-CoV-2 and the viral load on waste is still unknown. The longer the virus stays on a surface, the less likely the number and pathogenicity of Sars-CoV-2 will be sufficient for transmission (Guo et al., 2021). In addition, there are other environmental factors, such as temperature or pH, that influence the survival of the virus. At 60 °C, the virus is inactivated after 32.5 min and at 80 °C after 3.7 min (Hessling et al., 2020).
The fact that waste is stored in containers for hours to days before it is collected significantly reduces the probability that viable Sars-CoV-2 is still present on the waste at the time of waste collection. This applies to glass, PPK and light packaging. Due to the heterogeneous composition of the residual waste and its shorter emptying cycle, it is possible that infectious Sars-CoV-2 is still present on the waste at the time of its collection. This also applies to biowaste, where the high-water content of the waste favours the survival of the virus. During waste collection, the staff does not come into direct contact with waste. This is because only the waste containers are pushed or lifted to the collection vehicle and the recyclable waste containers are lifted with a crane. The protective measures during waste collection contain work gloves and various rules of conduct. These reduce the probability of staff members touching items contaminated with Sars-CoV-2. During waste treatment, workers may come into contact with the waste during manual sorting or repair and maintenance of equipment. Here, too, there are various measures, such as work gloves, respiratory protection and rules of conduct, to protect workers from hazards and the general risk of infection from waste (DGUV, 2016a, 2016b; Kirsch, 2021). Overall, the risk of transmission of Sars-CoV-2 through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects is estimated to be very low (CDC, 2020; Guo et al., 2021). Both for the recycling processes of plastics, glass, metals, and paper and for the aerobic and anaerobic treatment of biological waste, Sars-CoV-2 is completely inactivated and there is no risk of infection from the products resulting from this treatment.

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