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Should we be concerned about their impact on the environment
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Should we be concerned about their impact on the environment

covid testing kit laid out on a table


Home testing kits have been rediscovered because of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. The UK is Millions of people getting throughThese tests are performed each week by Joe Biden, the US president. 500 million kitsSend to Americans

Along with vaccinations, Better medicationThe availability of rapid testing has made it possible for many countries to be in a better position to fight the pandemic than they were one year ago. But, as with everything, testing has an impact on the environment that warrants investigation. So should we be worried about millions – or billions – of plastic test tubes and swabs?

This analysis is based on the lateral flow test known as the “Orient Gene Rapid Covid-19 (Antigen) Self-Test”. It’s a typical home testing kit in the UK, where I live, and is available through the NHS either Online or in pharmacies.

covid testing kit laid out on a table

This is the test that was used in this analysis.
George Loumakis, Author provided

I weighed every item in the lateralflow test kit (also known by lateral flows devices or LFD) until I found that it contained 10 grams of nonrecyclable materials. The test kit itself – the bit with two lines indicating a positive result – weighs 4 grams:

plastic thing on electronic scales

The author doesn’t have covid.
George Loumakis, Author provided

The rest of the weight comes from the extraction tubes, caps and zip-lock bags that can be used for disposal.

Small medical items on an electronic scales

It all adds up.
George Loumakis, Author provided

The production of plastics emits a lot greenhouse gases, primarily CO2.
How much depends on what material is used. However, the average omissions of household and packaging products made of lighter and more durable plastics is around. 1.5 to 3.1 grams of CO₂ equivalent per gram of plastic. As such, I’ll use a rough figure of 2.25 grams in this analysis since I don’t know the exact composition of the plastics used in the kits. Using this figure, the production of each test kit emits 22.5 grams of CO₂e.

From the end of May to mid-November, weekly statistics from NHS Test and Trace England indicate that 1,742,654 people were tested at least once a week. Assuming testing was done with similar kits then on a weekly basis we have 39 tonnes of CO₂e being emitted due to the use of these kits in England alone. Kits have been in high demand due to the new omicron model, which has led to shortages. Delivery of the kits will be Increasing the speed of your businessSo the expected testing numbers will likely continue to rise.

Yet COVID-19 and greenhouse gas emissions aren’t a local problem, but a global one, and should be treated accordingly. It is difficult to find global data as not all countries report their use of kits. However, at least the majority of countries used them. 3,631,464,074 Kits by December 15, bringing the total emissions to date to 81,708 tonnes of CO₂e. This would be equivalent to the annual CO2e emissions of 17,000 average people.

These 17,000 people make up just 0.0002%. The CO₂e numbers are therefore not big enough to make us worry, especially when compared to the much grander scale of the rest of our emissions. They can be used to indicate that all our actions have a climate effect and that the COVID-19 impacts might be more extensive than we think.

Incineration or landfill

This very basic analysis also doesn’t take into account the disposal of the waste from used kits, or the extensive use of sanitisers, or the litterMasks and other personal protective gear can cause these injuries.

Home testing devices should be thrown out in the regular trash bin in the UK. This will help reduce our environmental footprint. Waste to EnergyYou can use the rubbish to generate electricity by planting. However, many parts of the world consider testing kits to be medical waste. Incinerators: BurntThere is no energy recovery option.


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