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Covid: Discarded lateral flow tests cause littering pandemic

By Emily Price.

Lateral flow tests are being found discarded on streets, beauty spots and are even washing up on Welsh beaches.

A World Health Organisation report has warned that the Covid 19 pandemic has amounted to tens of thousands of tons of medical waste that will have a considerable impact on the environment.

Discarded lateral flow testing kit components will stay in tact for years to come says renewable energy expert and lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, George Loumakis.

George said: “The plastic that encases a lateral flow testing strip serves no bio medical purpose, it is only there for convenience. It makes it easier for unqualified people to use as it holds the testing strip in place.

“Any kind of plastic is worse than zero plastic. Over time, discarded plastic will break down into micro plastics which will eventually end up in our food chain.”

Lateral flow test kits are single use only and cannot be recycled. For each test disposed of in a general waste bin, around 10g of plastic will end up in landfill.

Oscar Wainwright is an amateur wildlife photographer and says he’s seen test kit components washing up on the beaches in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Oscar said: “Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve seen a lot of Covid related litter in the areas where I watch wildlife.

“It’s quite easy to dissociate from waste the moment it leaves our hand, but people should be more mindful of the impact plastic has on our natural world.”

Regular lateral flow testing has become a necessity in the road back to normality. But, if every adult and secondary school pupil in the UK did two lateral flow tests a week, it would amount to over 1,000 tons of waste every week.

Littered face masks have also become common place since they became mandatory in public places in 2020. The RSPCA say they are concerned about the impact of Covid litter and the hazards faced by our wildlife.

Photo: RSPCA

A spokesperson said: “Face masks are a new danger to animals and we’ve had to rescue birds which have been caught up in the elastic straps.

“We urge everyone to do their bit to help protect animals by disposing of rubbish responsibly.”

Keep Wales tidy will be publishing a report at the end of March which will include findings of street cleanliness across Wales and the types of litter found. For the first time, the report will include PPE as its own specific type of litter.

Keep Wales Tidy said: “Any littered PPE and lateral flow tests pose a contamination risk to council workers and volunteers picking them up.”

With Omicron being highly infectious and the most dominant variant in Wales, the Welsh Government have said people should dispose of tests properly.

As spokesperson said: “People should follow the instructions on the lateral flow self testing kits and use the waste bags provided and dispose of them via their normal household waste.”

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