RAT Tests and Their Environmental Impact

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the world in a huge number of ways. From changing how we work and socialise to dramatically increasing our awareness of viruses, infection and contamination, the pandemic has altered the way we live, interact and experience the world for good.

As well as affecting our social and professional lives, Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the environment. The increased need for PPE during the pandemic generated an estimated 8.4 million tons of plastic waste by August 2021, with around 25,000 tons of this waste thought to have found its way into our oceans already.

Though PPE may be the most visible plastic waste resulting from the pandemic, it’s by no means the only culprit. Experts are becoming increasingly concerned with the amount of plastic waste produced by rapid antigen test (RAT) test kits. Used extensively in countries around the world to identify sars-cov-2 and limit transmission of the virus, these rapid test kits have been manufactured in their billions.

Single-Use Plastic and Covid-19

 Due to the nature of the pandemic, the vast majority of PPE, test kits and related healthcare supplies have had to be single use. Disposing of swabs, masks, gloves and other contaminated items immediately after use helps to reduce the chances of transmitting the virus and keeps individuals and healthcare workers safe.

 However, while single use plastics may be good for controlling coronavirus pathogens, they are bad news for the environment. Australia alone produces around 2.5 million tonnes of plastic every year. A whopping 84% of this waste is sent to landfill and around 130,000 tonnes of it leaks out into the environment. The surge in demand for PPE due to the pandemic is likely to significantly increase the amount of plastic that ends up in landfill, incinerators, oceans and countryside.

Raptid Antigen Tests

RATs are one of the most common Covid-19 testing methods in use around the world. Faster and more affordable than a PCR test, they give largely accurate test results in minutes. Standard rapid antigen self-test kits contain a nasal swab, plastic bag, testing solution and instructions. Altogether, these tests contain around 10g of non-recyclable plastic.

Since the rapid antigen Covid-19 test was developed back in 2020, it’s been used as a way to identify the virus, limit infection and track the progress of the pandemic around the world. Because RATs are so useful in identifying coronavirus, they’ve been promoted by public health officials and medical professionals as a way to combat the spread of Covid-19. As a result, millions of RATs are used around the world every day.


The Environmental Impact of RAT Tests


In January, the omicron variant caused a surge in demand for home testing kits. The first week of the New Year saw over 25,000 Australians testing positive every day, with thousands more returning negative results. By the end of March, that figure had gone up to over 61,000 positive tests per day.  

It’s estimated that at least 3,631,464,074 kits were used around the world by December 2021. This is thought to have resulted in total emissions of over 81,000 tonnes of CO2.

All rapid antigen Covid-19 tests have to be 100% disposable. This is because a test showing a positive result can pose a real health risk and could even help to spread the virus if mis-handled. The vast majority of used tests are incinerated or go to landfill. Some also end up in our oceans or littering our countryside.

While the rollout of vaccines should gradually help to reduce the need for home testing, the demand for RATs is currently still high. All of these tests will be sent to landfill or incinerated, a process that releases additional harmful emissions.

As well as causing visible pollution, the production process of RATs releases a lot of excess carbon. It’s estimated that the manufacture of each kit produces around 22.5 grams of COe. With hundreds of thousands of people around the world testing every week, this is fast becoming a serious environmental issue.


The Long Term Impact of RATs

Currently, Australians with eligible concession cards are able to access free RATs at participating community pharmacies. However, Australia, like many other countries around the world, is likely to start limiting the availability of RATs as Covid-19 restrictions ease. While this may make it more difficult to track the prevalence of the virus, it should help to reduce the amount of plastic waste and harmful emissions produced by RATs and their manufacture.

Once the Covid-19 pandemic is under control, and the virus is no longer deemed a significant risk to human health, it’s probable that the use of RATs will be significantly scaled back. However, there are already millions of used tests in landfill and the greenhouse gases produced by the manufacturing process are already in our atmosphere. Dealing with these issues will take time and could cause environmental challenges for years to come.

The only good news is that the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in record drop in emissions from fossil fuel and industry. This should go some way to offsetting the greenhouse gases produced through the manufacture of rapid antigen tests.

With the Covid-19 pandemic still very much a part of everyday life, the demand for RAT tests remains high. However, as restrictions ease, vaccination rollout spreads and the virus mutates, it’s likely that we’ll see fewer and fewer tests used every day.

Learn more about PPE, rapid antigen tests and the environmental friendly products in our range, by exploring our site today.


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