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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

Solid waste management standard 1: Collection and disposal

The affected population has an environment not littered by solid waste, including medical waste, and has the means to dispose of their domestic waste conveniently and effectively.
Key actions (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)


Key indicators (to be read in conjunction with the guidance notes)

Guidance notes

  1. Planning and implementation: Solid waste disposal should be planned and implemented in close consultation and coordination with the affected population and relevant agencies and authorities. This should start in the beginning of the intervention before a solid waste problem becomes a major health risk to the affected population. Depending on the context, periodic clean-up campaigns need to be organised in consultation with the population and responsible local authorities.
  2. Burial of waste: If waste is to be buried on-site in either household or communal pits, it should be covered daily with a thin layer of earth to prevent it attracting vectors such as flies and rodents where it might become their breeding ground. If children’s faeces/nappies are being disposed of, they should be covered with earth directly afterwards. Disposal sites should be fenced off to prevent accidents and access by children and animals. Care should be taken to prevent any leachate contaminating the groundwater.
  3. Refuse type and quantity: Refuse in settlements varies widely in composition and quantity, according to the amount and type of economic activity, the staple foods consumed and local practices of recycling and/or waste disposal. The extent to which solid waste has an impact on people’s health should be assessed and appropriate action taken if necessary. Household waste should be collected in refuse containers for disposal in a pit for burying or incineration. Where it is not possible to provide refuse containers for each household, communal refuse containers should be provided. Recycling of solid waste within the community should be encouraged, provided it presents no significant health risk. Distribution of commodities that produce a large amount of solid waste from packaging or processing on-site should be avoided.
  4. Medical waste: Poor management of healthcare waste exposes the population, healthcare workers and waste handlers to infections, toxic effects and injuries. In a disaster situation, the most hazardous types of waste are likely to be infectious sharps and non-sharps (wound dressings, blood-stained cloth and organic matter such as placentas, etc.). The different types of waste should be separated at source. Non-infectious waste (paper, plastic wrappings, food waste, etc.) can be disposed of as solid waste. Contaminated sharps, especially used needles and syringes, should be placed in a safety box directly after use. Safety boxes and other infectious waste can be disposed of on-site by burial, incineration or other safe methods (see Health systems standard 1, guidance note 11).
  5. Market waste: Most market waste can be treated in the same way as domestic refuse. Slaughterhouse and fish-market waste may need special treatment and facilities to deal with the liquid waste produced and to ensure that slaughtering is carried out in hygienic conditions and in compliance with local laws. Slaughter waste can often be disposed of in a large covered pit next to the abattoir or fish processing plant. Blood, etc., can be run from the abattoir or fish processing plant into the pit through a slab-covered channel (which should help reduce fly access to the pit). Water should be made available for cleaning purposes.
  6. Controlled tipping and or sanitary landfill: Large-scale disposal of waste should be carried out off-site through either controlled tipping or sanitary landfill. This method is dependent upon sufficient space and access to mechanical equipment. Ideally, waste that is tipped should be covered with earth at the end of each day to prevent scavenging and vector breeding.
  7. Staff welfare: All involved in the collection, transport, disposal and recycling of solid waste should be provided with protective clothing, including at minimum gloves but ideally overalls, boots and protective masks. When necessary, immunisation against tetanus and hepatitis B should also be provided. Water and soap should be available for hand and face washing. Staff who come into contact with medical waste should be informed of the correct methods of storage, transport and disposal and the risks associated with improper management of the waste.
  8. Management of dead bodies: The management and/or burial of dead bodies from natural disasters should be dealt with in an appropriate and dignified manner. It is usually handled by search and recovery teams, in coordination with responsible government agencies and authorities. The burial of people who have died due to communicable diseases also needs to be managed appropriately and in consultation and coordination with health authorities (see Health systems standard 1, guidance note 12). Further information on how to deal with appropriate burial of dead bodies can be obtained from the materials in the References and further reading section.