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PRESS RELEASE: United Nations collaborates for COVID-19 Waste Awareness in South Africa

22 May 2020: Your household and office waste can spread COVID-19 by infecting others. United Nations is concerned that most people do not realize this and has mounted a strong and urgent initiative to launch environmental education and communication programmes to stop the virus from being transmitted through waste material.

Partnering with United Nations Environmental Programme to develop and create awareness of how we can stop the spread of COVID-19 through responsible, considerate waste disposal practices are: The Department of Health (Environmental Unit); Department of Forestry, Fishery and Environment; Packaging SA; Plastics SA; SA Waste Pickers Association; South African Forestry Companies Limited (SAFCOL); Sustainable Seas Trust (SST); and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA).

“The main objective is to minimize possible secondary impacts of COVID-19 upon human health and the environment. UNEP will work closely with these partners to strengthen communities in the safe disposal of hazardous medical and sanitary waste,” said United Nations Resident Coordinator for South Africa, Nardo Bekele-Thomas.

To stop the COVID-19 pandemic it is essential that we cut off every way in which the virus is spread from one human to the next. One route that has been overlooked by many is through waste, whether on contaminated packaging such as plastics and cardboards or more hygiene related items such as masks, tissues, and gloves.

According to the World Health Organization, the main routes of transmission are respiratory droplets and direct contact; but the immediate environment of an infected individual can also serve as a source of transmission as droplets may land on surfaces or objects where the virus could remain infectious.

“Everyone must become aware of the need to protect municipal waste collectors, waste-pickers or even curious individuals who might open bins and bags that might contain virus infected material from homes and offices. By keeping bags of waste sealed safely aside, for at least three days, could reduce the possibility of further contamination,” Cecilia Kinuthia-Njenga, Head of UNEP office in South Africa.

Members of the public are encouraged to follow the social media pages of Sustainable Seas Trust and other partners listed above to receive more detailed information, tips, guidelines and recommendations on how to stop the spread of the virus by killing the COVID-19 contamination of packages coming into your household / workplace (e.g. groceries, items, products and packaging), and making sure that no live viruses leave your household /workplace on waste items.

Ends …

World Health Organization (2020). Water sanitation hygiene: WASH and COVID-19 [online]. World Health Organization. [Viewed 12 May 2020]. Available from:
World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2020). 23 April 2020. Water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management for the COVID-19 virus. Interim guidance [online]. World Health Organization. [Viewed 12 May 2020]. Available from:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): When to wear gloves [online]. Centers for Disease Control and Preventation. [Viewed 12 May 2020]. Available from:

Sharne’ Woods | Communications Manager | +27 (0) 84 549 6551|
Stacey Webb | Executive Director | +27 (0) 72 185 0890 |
Tony Ribbink | Chief Executive Officer | +27 (0) 83 640 1588 |

About Sustainable Seas Trust |
Sustainable Seas Trust is a charitable trust and a non-profit organisation (NPO) that supports and connects communities across Africa through research, education, enterprise development and growing awareness about ocean conservation and plastic pollution.

SST has a vision for the African continent: Towards Zero Plastics to the Seas of Africa. SST is partnering with Norway and the Western Indian Ocean Countries to drive this change. Plastic pollution has a huge negative impact on local and national economies, human and environmental health, on the marine ecosystem and society, and our programmes are working towards tackling plastic pollution at its source: on land.

An important role of SST is to build networks for sharing information within and among countries as it moves towards zero plastics the seas of Africa. Through SST events and projects, the African Marine Waste Network, Hope Spots and Marine Education, like-minded and passionate people are being brought together, locally and internationally, to manage the issues of plastic waste and sustain the marine environment of Africa.