Photo: Kun.uz

As the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread all around the globe with the number of infected people increasing tremendously fast, global community, including scholars, governments, doctors stood up to identify the best ways in protecting people and stopping the catastrophic transmission of the virus among people.   

Many countries around the world came up with the guidance on advising people to wear personal protection equipment (PPE). PPE for public use includes single use of face masks and gloves. Uzbekistan was not an exception to this. 

From the first days when cases were identified in the country, Uzbekistan officials, including health representatives advised wearing face masks in public areas, as well as single-use of gloves in public places, like grocery stores: with this in mind, several grocery stores provided customers with single-use gloves and hand-sanitizing counters. 

At the same time our AccLab already started exploring potential challenges, consequences, and outcomes of the upcoming spread of COVID-19 and lockdown in Uzbekistan. We learned about different measures put in place by the governments of various countries during the pandemic peaks. This included making efforts on decreasing social/physical interactions among people, providing guidance on the use of PPE, supporting public health systems, reaching out to those in most vulnerable situations, adapting economies to the new realities, and so on. 

Unfortunately, the environmental issues were not among the priority response actions in many countries. While one can think that these issues may not seem the most pending during a global pandemic situation, the high risk of transferring virus through the incorrect/or not at all disposal of PPEs requires close attention and is directly linked with a safe environment. 

A large number of single-use masks and gloves were discarded everywhere around the towns and cities, including in Tashkent – at the entrance of grocery stores (in small trashcans), on the sidewalks of the streets, etc. 

Discussions in the Lab made us realize that the wrong disposal of the PPE could become a growing problem  for the environment and public health during the lockdown and once the restrictions were eased. We used this moment to conduct a behavioral experiment on accurate/safe PPE waste disposal during the COVID-19 pandemic and learn about people’s attitudes toward certain incentives.

During our exploration and mapping solutions, we formulated the hypotheses for our experiment as follows:  

“People will largely practice safe disposal of PPE during the pandemic if 

1.     they are provided special containers for their disposal in usual and convenient waste disposal points

AND

2.     provided with more information about correct disposal of PPE (e.g. delivering the message that it may affect not only the environment but also their health as the COVID-19 virus can be active on the mask/gloves for up to 7 days

Due to the lockdown and closed business around the country, AccLab decided to conduct this experiment in Tashkent city, the capital which till now has the highest number of COVID-19 identified cases in Uzbekistan. 

Our solutions included  

-       installing labelled safe disposal containers for collection of PPE waste at 32 large grocery’s stores, and large labelled containers at 150 waste collection stations in the most populated neighborhoods in Tashkent city 

-       creating an awareness raising video on good practices to prevent the spread of virus: social distancing; correct/safe use and disposal of PPE; protecting people at risk such as elderly; shifting to non-cash transactions, etc. 

In this experiment we partnered with Makhsustrans – the nationwide public waste collection operator. Makhsustrans committed to collect and incinerate the waste from our pilot waste stations in safe manner, with  special tracks and personnel. Furthermore, collected PPE waste was burned under special conditions, as high temperature proved destroying the virus. 

We also partnered with one of the biggest supermarket chains in the country - Makro.  Under previous initiatives, the AccLab witnessed an increased interest and readiness of the private sector to contribute to the social agenda and support initiatives that protect the environment and public health. This was also true in this case, the supermarket chain gladly joined our initiative.

During the last days of April 2020, we launched the initiative with focus on behavioral experiment during the COVID -19 pandemic. It was done and is still going on remotely/by distance, which is an experiment for us in its own way.

The overall our experiment is aimed to show whether or not we, as a society, are predisposed to change our behavior toward safe collection and disposal of PPE waste management during a pandemic such as COVID-19. As part of the experiment, our partners from Makhsustrans will randomly ask visitors formalized questions in the supermarkets and at the waste collection stations on PPE disposal (social/physical distance will be in place). For that our Lab developed brief questionnaires as well as a check- list to: monitor and understand how the fast/slow containers get filled up with the PPE, to find possible correlations with the population density/different areas of Tashkent city, and raise public awareness on the issues of COVID-19 and PPE waste management. 

At the same time, this initiative will allow us to experimentally improve our knowledge of the readiness of the population to sort special waste in general and will help to develop more effective programs for the collection and recycling of waste in the future.

Our experiment is in the process until the end of August 2020. Its result and updates will be ready for one of our next blogs. Stay tuned.  

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