Can you recycle a Rapid Antigen Test?

Waste not: The rapid antigen tests analyse a nasal swab or saliva for the presence of the coronavirus. Picture: File
Waste not: The rapid antigen tests analyse a nasal swab or saliva for the presence of the coronavirus. Picture: File

So, you've got your hands on a rapid antigen test, you've swabbed the inside of your nose or taken a sample of saliva, now what?

Awaiting your test results, with the contents of the test package in front of you, the thought may arise, is any of this test kit recyclable?

The short answer is no.

Like all medical waste, rapid antigen tests need to be disposed of correctly. Most kits will come with instructions from the manufacturer on how to dispose of the kit properly.

Generally, the NSW government recommends that test kits should be placed in a small plastic bag that can be sealed, then put in another plastic bag before being sealed and disposed of in the household rubbish.

A Wollongong Council spokesperson encouraged residents to follow the NSW Health advice.

What can be recycled?

While this may apply to the testing materials itself, the packaging the test kit comes in is another matter. Dean Whiting, CEO of Pathology Technology Australia, the peak body representing the manufacturers and suppliers of rapid antigen tests and other diagnostic and pathology technology, said that these materials can be recycled.

"The paperwork and the cardboard packaging would be fine to go in the recycling. The swab, the remains of the buffer tube and the cassette itself shouldn't be put into recycling."

Liam Taylor, head of communications at Planet Ark, highlighted that while the extra waste is lamentable, safety during a pandemic is the number one consideration.

"Used rapid antigen test kits are considered hazardous waste and therefore require proper management and disposal. If cardboard packaging is used to house the test kits, this should definitely be recycled through kerbside recycling services."

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While most rapid antigen tests will come back negative, the risk of reinfection from any positive tests is low, said Mr Whiting.

"These products have a very low ability to reinfect. The buffer that's used in some cases actually kills the virus. So the virus itself is not live inside the buffer."

Reducing waste

Mr Whiting said that test kit manufacturers are well aware of the issue of waste when it comes to medical materials, but must also comply with regulations.

"Many of our manufacturers participate in packaging covenants around Australia and around the world, and are acutely aware of the issues around waste and are looking for opportunities to participate in the circular economy."

In the absence of a recyclable test kit, there are ways to reduce waste while keeping ourselves and the community safe. Annie Burbrook, engagement and support manager at Illawarra social enterprise Green Connect, said the first step is to avoid disposable masks.

"You can make your own or there are plenty of reusable masks," she said.

Other tips to reduce waste is buying in bulk to cut down on packaging, particularly for items like hand sanitiser.

Like other disposable items, if not binned or recycled correctly, the masks and other materials end up in our environment.

"Our environmental issues haven't gone away because of COVID. In fact they've escalated because of the mountain of rubbish that's been created," said Ms Burbrook.

This story Can you recycle a Rapid Antigen Test? first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.