BEKASI, Indonesia: Resting on a mound of dirt on one side of an 11ha landfill in the outskirts of Jakarta, sitting side by side with discarded food packaging, broken toys and other domestic waste, were plastic bags filled white and blue medical face masks.

Metres away, dozens of test cartridges with the word “COVID-19” printed on them littered the ground. They were strewn at the side of a road where a long queue of garbage trucks had formed, waiting to unload foul smelling waste collected from across the Bekasi regency which borders the Indonesian capital.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg. There is much more medical waste inside, hidden beneath layers of ordinary trash,” activist Mr Bagong Suyoto told CNA. 

He was referring to a nearby mountain of trash standing over 20m tall. It was teeming with scavengers and workers manning the half-a-dozen excavators.https://www.youtube.com/embed/P0g5-6rV9lM?autoplay=1&start=0&rel=0

By law, medical waste is classified as hazardous and toxic waste and is supposed to be incinerated to stop the spread of diseases and prevent contamination.

But weak supervision and enforcement of the rules as well as the lack of certified incinerators across the country meant that some medical waste occasionally ended up in landfills which are only meant for household waste.

The situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Indonesian Hospital Association, hospitals across the country produced around 290 tonnes of medical waste per day prior to the pandemic. This figure has since ballooned to 493 tonnes per day.

As COVID-19 rages, infectious waste is not only produced by hospitals and clinics. They are also produced by isolation facilities which have remained largely unsupervised, as well as households that rarely separate infectious waste from ordinary rubbish.

The actual amount of medical waste produced by isolation facilities and households is unknown. However, the Ministry for Forestry and the Environment estimated that each COVID-19 patient can produce up to 1.7kg of infectious waste per day.

Around 4 million people in Indonesia have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

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