Solid Waste

The availability of sustainable water, sanitation, environmental, chemical, and healthcare waste management (HCWM) services is essential for the quality of care and the prevention and control of infections in healthcare facilities. Significant progress and commitments have been made in this area in recent years. WHO, UNICEF, Member States, and partners are now actively responding to this critical component for health and well-being (WHO, 2019).

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in healthcare waste, testing the capabilities of resource-limited healthcare facilities and exacerbating the environmental impact of solid waste. There is growing recognition that healthcare investments must consider environmental and climate implications, including implications for the acquisition, use, management, and treatment of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Meanwhile, the environment and the climate crisis continue to accelerate, with the impacts of poor waste management and climate change particularly felt in impoverished communities lacking safely managed water and sanitation supplies and experiencing poor-quality healthcare (WHO, 2022).

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, plastic production has more than doubled, raising concerns both for short-term impacts on freshwater, oceans, and air quality (due to burning), and for longer-term impacts of persistent non-plastic particles (Shams M., Alam I., Mahbub MS., 2021).

Key facts
  • Some large and highly urbanized cities in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) may generate even more solid waste per person due to population density and consumption patterns.
  • Large urban centers face significant challenges in waste management, such as collection, treatment, and proper disposal.
  • According to a report by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), approximately 70% of hospital waste in Latin America and the Caribbean is inadequately managed, posing a risk to public health and the environment.
Fact sheet

Five key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda address the environmental determinants of health and contribute directly and indirectly to SDG 3, which focuses on "health" - ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all ages. These SDGs address issues of water, sanitation, and hygiene, air quality, chemical safety, and climate action.

Lines of Action

  • Elimination of Dumpsites in Latin America
  • Health Impacts of Inadequate Healthcare Waste Management
  • Agreements on Solid Waste Management
  • Impacts of Microplastics and Other Contaminants on Health
  • Strengthening collaboration with WHO/CC

Global Impacts 

  • Water Sources and Oceans Pollution
  • Air Pollution
  • Pollution and Impact of Plastics, Heavy Metals, and Nanocompounds
  • Incidence on Climate Change (GHG)
PAHO Response

In order to reduce the burden of disease and health inequity attributable to environmental health determinants in the Americas Region, PAHO provides technical cooperation to countries in the Americas Region to increase the capacity of health actors to address environmental health determinants through concrete actions such as:

  • Establishment of a regional network for healthcare waste management, to strengthen the capacities of countries in incorporating issues related to comprehensive management and inclusion within national agendas.
  • Development of risk communication materials focused on the management of electrical and electronic waste.