Bird flu is ravaging the seagulls.
Bird flu is ravaging the seagulls.

The waste industry must help contain bird flu

August 1, 2023
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Birds that die from bird flu along the Norwegian coastline can pose a risk of infection if they end up as residual waste. This makes correct handling of the dead seagulls important. "It is crucial that dead birds are handled and treated as infectious waste, so that we avoid spreading the infection through export of residual waste," says Regional Manager in Geminor, Vidar Monsen.

According to the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet), the ongoing bird virus outbreak is the largest ever recorded in Norway. Thousands of birds, primarily the endangered gull species "Krykkja" (Rissa tridactyla), are dying a slow death due to the spread of the deadly virus. Although the northern Norwegian region of Finnmark is currently the hardest hit, dead birds have also been reported in southern Norway.

The outbreak of bird flu is first and foremost an animal tragedy, but also poses a challenge in terms of waste streams, explains Vidar Monsen, Geminor's Regional Manager in northern Norway.

"Dead birds are in practice infectious waste, and must be handled accordingly. This is something that both private individuals, municipal staff and waste companies that handle dead birds must be aware of. As the Norwegian Food Safety Authority also states, it is very important to ensure safe collection and final treatment of dead birds, so that we can reduce the spread of the disease," says Monsen.

In areas with bird flu, it is not allowed to throw dead birds in with the household waste. Here, dead animals must be delivered to offtakers approved for infectious waste.

"To be absolutely sure not to spread infection through the waste system, we recommend that everyone treats dead birds as infectious waste. Today, waste flows are international, and in the worst case scenario, we could risk exporting the infection to countries such as Sweden and Finland through the export of residual waste," says Monsen.

Vidar Monsen at Geminor sees challenges with infection in the waste chain.

Transported 10,000 dead birds

Geminor is now involved in the handling of dead birds by advising municipalities and waste operators on the safe handling of infected birds. Recently, a shipment of 3.3 tonnes of dead birds from Eastern Finnmark was sent for incineration at a facility in the region.

The first shipment amounted to around 10,000 dead birds, but Vidar Monsen fears that this is only the first of many shipments.

"Limiting the spread of bird flu in the wild seems to be very difficult, and therefore we will unfortunately have to handle many more dead birds in the time to come. What we can do something about, however, is to limit the possibility of the infection spreading with our waste. In this respect, it is important that the entire value chain in the waste industry - from collection to final treatment - is aware of its responsibility and facilitates safe handling throughout Norway. In this way, we can help to limit the animal tragedy and the extent of the damage it causes," concludes Vidar Monsen, Regional Manager at Geminor.