Action 133: Dispose of COVID-19 test kits properly and safely

Covid-19 Home Testing KitDate: 13 May
Action: 133
Cost of taking action: £/$/€ ZERO

 

COVID-19 home test kits

Action 133 is very topical and relevant at the moment; we want you to think carefully about the potential negative impact on our environment of mass testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and try to reduce it if at all possible.

Of course, we must all stay safe and testing is essential, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be careful about the environment too.

Things to think about with your COVID-19 test include:

  • they are made of a number of different plastics as well as other material
  • littering
  • recycling
  • the sheer numbers involved

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Plastics

These notes are based on the tests used in the UK but those in other countries will be identical or very similar.

The kit – in boxes of 25 generally – comes with:

  • 2 plastic bottles of reactant – in individual tiny plastic ziplock bags
  • 25 plastic sampling swabs – in individual plastic packaging
  • 25 plastic tubes – with plastic caps, and in a plastic bag
  • 25 test cartridges, made of two different plastics, in individual plastic pouches
  • 25 individually wrapped plastic sachets of dessicant
  • All in a cardboard box (yay!)

As you can see, there’s a lot of plastic!

We know this is all essential at this difficult time, but being aware of this plastic will hopefully make us all think about disposing of the test kits properly.

Littering

face mask litter

Already we know that facemasks, plastic PPE, and test kit swabs are littering and polluting our environment. This waste is in our drainage systems, waterways and washing up on our beaches. It’s hugely damaging to the ecosystems and to wildlife.

We have a massive anti-social littering problem in many of our societies – in particular in the UK – and the plastic being used to counter the pandemic is adding to this.

See our earlier article about facemasks, for example.

Recycling

Sadly, at present, the parts of the test kits in use cannot be recycled. This is because:

  • they are made of a variety of mixed plastics
  • they are contaminated
  • they are made of small parts, which are hard to recycle

Whether the result is positive or negative, the used items from each test – including the testing strip, swab and extraction tube – should be put in the small plastic bag that comes with the pack. This bag should then go into your normal rubbish bin.

The kits are not considered clinical waste for incineration, and nor can they be recycled.

As an important aside, if your test result is positive you should make sure you then treat all of your personal waste appropriately. The advice for any household with a confirmed Covid-19 case or symptoms is that tissues, disposable cleaning cloths, masks and gloves should be double-bagged and kept separate from other waste for 72 hours (3 days) before going into the usual rubbish outside your house.

Sadly, a lot of this waste will end up in landfill, although some will be incinerated, and be with us for decades. Perhaps one of the follow up actions from the pandemic from our governments will be investment in plastic clean up. Fingers crossed for that.

Please, do what you can to make sure plastic COVID-19 waste is in the waste management system.

The numbers involved

… are in the billions, every month

So let’s try and manage the waste, together.

We are a world population of 7.8 billion people, all trying to protect and test ourselves. At this link, greenmatters.com report that we are, globally, using and disposing of an estimated 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves every single month that we deal with COVID. We are now adding the lateral flow test kits in similar numbers.

Take action

Stay safe and continue testing, but take care and be thoughtful about this sadly unavoidable plastic waste.