Biodegradable lateral flow tests could help combat the environmental cost of Covid-19

A British company will begin using plant-based materials to produce LFTs as the World Health Organisation issues warning over waste from the crisis.

SureScreen Diagnostics currently produces around one million Covid-19 later flow tests each day. Now the company has confirmed it’s Nottingham factory will soon switch to using PBAT, a biodegradable polymer, for the strip cassettes, rather than non-recyclable plastics. The new, greener alternatives will be available in the UK within weeks.  

yellow hibiscus in clear glass vase

The news comes as researchers at another British firm, Globus Group, announced the launch of a project with Heriot-Watt University. The company, which produces PPE, is working alongside academic researchers to fine-tune a new process that can turn used protective equipment into a secondary raw material, pyrolisis oil. This can then be refined for commercial products, including new PPE and fuels.

Set to run for two years in order to prove a circular economy is possible even in terms of Covid-19 response industries, it is hoped the current level of waste – 7g of redundant material per medical mask – can be reduced by around 85%. 

Medical waste has become a crisis in its own right since the pandemic began in early-2020. Everything from discarded tests, to old vaccine bottles and used syringes have created a pileup of tens of thousands of tonnes, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) publishing a report on the situation.

Focusing on 1.5billion units of PPE delivered through the United Nations, a fraction of the total volume used in the past two years, the majority was treated as waste, with up to 97% destined to be incinerated. Recommendations made in response to the investigation include using PPE ‘more rationally’, having less packaging for PPE, development of reusable and recyclable PPE and equipment made from biodegradable materials. 

In related news, Environment Journal recently published two features on the challenges of improving the environmental impact of  healthcare, from supply chains to the systems themselves. 

Image credit:  JC Gellidon




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