The world as we know it depends on all of us to manage our own waste. Although solid waste employees are trained to take control of our waste when we set it on the side of the curb, everything that happens up to that point is up to us. We decide whether we are going to recycle, compost or whether we will sort out the hazardous waste. Most of us base our choices on the recommendations of the solid waste experts. Their information comes from scientists who study garbage and the impact on the environment.
We are currently facing a new waste challenge. This challenge requires us to pay attention to the scientists so we can manage our waste properly. When waste is not managed properly there are consequences – such as illegal dumps that mar the beauty of the countryside. Or injury to a solid waste employee because diabetes needles were discarded loose. The new challenge I’m referring to is the waste from our own bodies that comes through respiration, or the act of breathing.
Simply put, with every breath we take, oxygen is brought into our lungs. At every exhale, carbon dioxide is released. We all do it. When that function ceases, we die. Carbon dioxide is a waste product produced by our bodies and what we do with that waste affects other people. With a cough or sneeze, respiration droplets can spread over ten feet. When we speak, sing or shout respiration droplets are released and suspended in air for over three minutes. When we cough or sneeze into our hands and then touch surfaces at home or work, others can be exposed to our waste on surfaces we touched for hours. This is not usually a big deal unless we are sick. When we are sick, we expose others to our germs – which can infect others with the same germs that have affected us.
In 1860, Louis Pasteur discovered that germs spread infection. In 1905, Florence Nightingale discovered that hand washing is essential to prevent the spread of germs and infections. Since those discoveries, protocol was established for use in hospitals and health care facilities to protect both patients and health care providers. Mandatory policy to wear a mask and engage in frequent hand washing have been in place since over a century ago to help prevent the spread of infection. These same policies can help us with the challenge that currently faces us all worldwide.
Our new challenge is to manage our respiratory waste. COVID-19 is a virus that spreads easily through the air and can remain on surfaces for hours. Because the virus is so widespread and doesn’t always cause symptoms, none of us knows for sure whether we are infected. Despite this, we can help prevent the spread of the virus by using the protocol established over 100 years ago. Cover a cough or sneeze. Wear a mask. Wash hands frequently. Physical distance so respiratory waste doesn’t come into contact with others. Stay safe!