Hesperian Health Guides

Get rid of wastes safely

In this chapter:

There are three different kinds of waste after a birth or procedure:

body wastes sharp wastes other wastes
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like blood,
stool, or placenta
like needles for sewing or syringes like used
plastic gloves

These wastes carry germs and can spread infections to you and to people in the family and community. Wear gloves when you touch wastes, and get rid of them carefully.

Body wastes

The simplest way to dispose of body wastes is to put them in a latrine or to bury them deep in the ground.

In many communities, families bury the placenta, sometimes with other special objects. Burying the placenta is an important ritual for many people, and is
a syringe being put into an empty coffee can.
also a way to protect the community from germs that may grow in the placenta.
Sharp wastes

Sharp wastes must be put into a container so they will not injure anyone who finds  them. A container made of metal or heavy plastic, with a lid or tape to close it, works well.

When the container is half full, add bleach if possible, then seal it closed and bury it deep in the ground.

Other wastes

Other wastes, like plastic gloves, syringe barrels, or cloth soaked in blood, should be sterilized and then buried deep in the ground. You can sterilize them by soaking them in bleach for 20 minutes.

WARNING!   Do not burn plastic gloves, syringes, or any other plastics. Burning plastic wastes is dangerous — when plastic burns, it makes smoke and ash that is very poisonous.

Burying wastes

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Find a place away from where people get their drinking water and away from where children play. Dig a safe waste pit to bury wastes.

A safe waste pit

  1. Dig a pit 1 to 2 meters wide and 2 to 5 meters deep. The bottom of the pit should be
    at least 1 meter above the water table.
  2. illustration of waste pit described below.
  3. Line the inside of the pit with a layer of clay or rocks at least 10 centimeters thick.
  4. Build up a ridge of earth around the top of the pit to prevent surface water from running in.
  5. Build a fence around the area where the pit is located to keep animals out.

Each time waste is put in the pit, cover the waste with 10 centimeters of soil, or a mix of soil and lime. Lime helps disinfect the waste, and will also keep animals away while the pit is in use.

When the waste rises to ½ meter from the surface, cover it with ½ meter of soil and seal it with a layer of concrete at least 90 centimeters thick. If the pit is used only for medical waste and not for regular garbage, it will not fill up too quickly.

a woman putting waste in a pit near a health center; she wears a face mask.
Use the 50-meter rule when you dig a hole to bury wastes.
50 meters from buildings
50 meters from water
50 meters from wells

This page was updated:05 Jan 2024