"We are taking the safety precautions we can. After that, it's all in god's hands," said Kumudu before putting on her mask and getting back to work. She is one of Bengaluru's sanitation workers, who segregate dry waste for recycling. Her biggest concern, as the coronavirus pandemic rages through the country, is the pile of discarded masks they come across in dry waste.
Wearing a mask is saving many lives in these uncertain times. But for the employees of dry waste segregation centres, these masks are posing a huge threat. The workers have to clear them out with their own hands.
"We were getting up to 1,000 masks a day. Since the coronavirus cases have increased, we see up to 2,000 to 3,000 masks, which we have to clear out with our hands," said Srinivas, a dry waste segregator in the city’s JP Nagar area.
The workers say used masks should be discarded only after being wrapped in paper.
"It should be wrapped in paper. People should now segregate three kinds of waste – wet waste, dry waste, and sanitary waste; and masks must be in sanitary waste," said Mansoor, the manager of one of the dry waste centres.
However, many continue to work despite the fear of catching COVID-19.
"We are taking all safety precautions we can, after that, it's all in god's hands, whether he will save us. But we are doing our best. We are doing this because someone has to get it done," said Kumudu.
While the work has to be done, the sanitation workers said a small mistake in handling medical waste could put their families in danger.
"We are scared, brother. We also have families. I have two small children. So, won't we be afraid? What if we get the diseases others have, especially our children," asked Geetha, a sanitation worker.
"People should know they must not throw the masks. They should think not just about their health, but ours also," added Sulieman, Geetha's colleague.