'We absolutely should be worried': Recycling company share concerns about post-Covid plastic fallout

This article was published with The Humanity Journal, which can be found here!

Used lateral flow test by Tom Charlesworth

It was announced last week that Yorkshire-based recycling company, ReWorked, are to begin recycling lateral flow tests last week in the fight against the pandemic plastic fallout. They’re currently the only UK company to undertake such a task.

The company that focuses on ‘hard-to-handle' plastics such as black food trays and cosmetics packages normally, have turned their focus to PPE and tests.

We absolutely should be worried about [the plastic fallout].
Izzie Glazzard, ReWorked Marketing Manager

The British Medical Journal estimate that the UK government has purchased over 380 million lateral flow tests to roll out mass testing across the country. Whilst this might allow for the country to return to some normality soon, it does pose a huge environmental risk.

Currently, only the cardboard box that the tests come in is recyclable. The rest is simply thrown away with normal household waste. As a result, if not for ReWorked, each of the nearly 400 million tests would end up in landfill.

“We should absolutely be worried about it,” Izzie Glazzard, the company’s marketing manager told us. “The country’s facing a whole new waste stream and no-one's talking about it.”

In previous years, the UK has seemingly done a lot to make recycling the norm. Since 2015, the country has doubled the amount of plastic packaging recycling in an attempt to reduce so much non-biodegradable waste from being thrown away.

However, ReWorked say the pandemic might have undone all of that hard work. “You only have to walk around the corner from your home, and I can guarantee, you’ll see at least one disposable mask on the side of the road,” Ms. Glazzard said.

She explained that the previous year might have made us complacent in the fight against plastic. Something that could have an ‘irreversible effect’ on our surrounding environment. Despite that, ReWorked do believe that they can fight back against this waste alone.

“We do have the capacity to recycle all of these tests,” said Izzie, but it “must be accessible to everyone.” They hope that educational settings and workplaces will commit to a recycling scheme with them to combat this impending problem.

A disposable mask caught in bluebells by Tom Charlesworth

The government have recently implored everyone to take at least two lateral flow tests a week so we can figure out where the virus is. However, the leaflet that comes with the tests state you should simply throw it all away with the rest of your ‘domestic household waste.’

Currently, they’re the only company recycling tests. They say they’re able to do this as a result of investment into technology previously. In addition to that, because they’re a smaller company, they’re able to try new things out without much hesitation, something that’s proved significant in the battle against PPE waste.

This new push to recycle lateral flow tests comes just a month after their successful #reclaimthemask campaign in partnership with high-street supermarket Wilko. Shoppers are now able to bring their used disposable masks into 150 Wilko stores around the country for recycling at a ReWorked plant.

Izzie stated that the campaign has been “massively successful” so far. They’re hopeful that there will be a similar response for recycling of lateral flow tests.

The process of recycling PPE, however, isn’t easy. The company say that a test alone is made up of many different polymers. These must be broken apart before being able to be recycled.

In addition to that, there’s a huge hygiene hurdle to tackle too. To recycle masks, gloves and tests, each article of waste must first undergo a 72-hour quarantine, before being washed, shredded and finally melted down.

Once the plastics have been melted into little pellets, they’re able to be reused in several different ways. The company currently turn this waste into recycling bins to be sold to companies and educational settings across the UK. They also turn PPE into outdoor furniture.