Rapid antigen tests are piling up in homes and offices, but they can not be recycled. Here’s why

In the past few months, rapid antigen tests (RATs) have become a hot commodity.

Australians have been scouring chemists or queuing for hours at public clinics in order to obtain the kits, all amid reports of “outrageous” price gouging.

In mid-January, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt promised 70 million of the kits, which are manufactured overseas, would arrive in the country within the next few months.

There is enormous demand for them. The government currently recommends daily RAT screening for all disability and aged care staff in communities with high case numbers.

State governments have also introduced frequent mandatory testing across other industries including construction, food supply and commercial cleaning.

So once you get your hands on a RAT and it’s done analyzing your saliva or nasal swab, which bin should it go in?

Bag it and bin it

The swab, buffer tube and cassette (the part that shows your result) must all go in the rubbish – they can not be recycled.

But that has nothing to do with the materials they’re made from, explains Dean Whiting, the CEO of Pathology Technology Australia, which is the peak body representing manufacturers and suppliers of the tests.

Mr Whiting said anything contaminated with biological material, including blood, urine or faeces, could harbor a contagion or an infectious agent.

“Once used, the cassettes now contain a tiny amount of biological material. And any biological material – any human waste – is potentially infectious and, as such, can not be recycled under any circumstances,” he said.

“Lake [recycling] is not recommended as far as I know anywhere in the world, “he added.

“The chances of it actually being infectious are incredibly low, but we can not take that chance in the recycling environment.”

He said it was recommended that used kits were placed inside a sealed plastic bag before they were put in with the household waste.

Close-up of hands of boy in red shirt with white testing result.
There is enormous demand for RATs across the country.(ABC News: Oliver Gordon)

“If you test positive, it’s not a bad idea to carefully put a drop of household bleach into the buffer tube with the swab and onto the test cartridge – make sure you do not get it on yourself – to kill off any bacteria and viruses in the solution, “he said.

A spokesperson from SUEZ Australia and New Zealand, which provides waste management services to more than 4 million residents and businesses in Australia, said waste from residential kerbside collections usually went to landfill.

Staff received training on safe practices around the collection of waste, but collection staff did not open or sort waste from kerbside bins, they said.

What about the packaging?

Mr Whiting said cardboard packaging materials and any instructions on the paper included in the kits could be recycled.

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