With the rise of rapid antigen tests (RATs) at home, there are concerns about the amount of plastic waste they contribute, but also their toxicity.
Over nine million RAT kits have so far been distributed across New Zealand, each consisting of a tester, swab, vial, capsule (only in some cases) and a whole bunch of micro-packaging.
“We know this has created a very large amount of additional medical waste against the backdrop of the large amount of waste that we create every year anyway and that is a real concern because there is a contradiction where medical waste harms health where we’re trying to keep people better and protect them from the pandemic,” said Alex Macmillan, associate professor of environmental health at the University of Otago.
But that’s only one concern with 1News speaking to a few pharmacists who said there was some concern over the effects of chemicals in the test kits. They are also concerned that there are Covid-positive samples in the general waste, which could infect others.
So we asked a lab expert, who disposes of other medical tests like PCRs by incinerating them as biohazardous waste, what to do.
“If businesses have the ability and facilities to dispose of infectious waste, that’s an option, but it’s fine to put it in a sealed bag and dispose of it properly in the general garbage,” said the NZ Institute of Medical Laboratory Science. said President Terry Taylor.
He says even the buffer solution in the kit can be discarded, despite some tests containing the toxic chemical sodium azide.
“The whole idea of this liquid is that it actually neutralizes the virus, so it contains agents that prevent the virus from persisting, making it a non-infectious situation,” Taylor said.
Small amounts present will not be harmful to adults, but may be harmful to young children and pets.
The SPCA warns to dispose of them properly.
“If there was a smaller animal that could have entered or if an animal has ingested multiple vials of these buffer solutions, there is the potential for more serious health consequences,” the SPCA’s chief scientist said. , Dr. Alison Vaughan.
Australia has recently seen an increase in calls to the animal poison helpline from RATs.
“One of the big things we don’t want is for them to show up in recycling company recycling areas because as you can imagine we don’t want people dealing with that stuff. , so the idea is once you’ve completed your rapid antigen test, seal it in a plastic bag and put it in your general trash so it goes to the general landfill and not recycling” , Taylor said.
But maybe it’s time to think about how we can recycle these tests.
“While these tests are a very important part of our response to the pandemic, we need to be smarter in our response and that means dealing with the design and manufacturing end. The companies designing this really important equipment now really have to consider their environmental and therefore health damage,” Macmillan said.
Bringing these tests to the general public is an important part of our response to the pandemic, but could set us back in our sustainability efforts.
Just this week, the United Nations agreed to create a historic global treaty to tackle plastic pollution and Macmillan says she is calling on “our environment minister, David Parker, to play a very important role in these negotiations”.
These historic negotiations are set to take place next year in hopes of tackling our plastic waste problems.