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How much plastic has been used during the COVID-19 pandemic?

In a recently published study in Health Science Reportsthe researchers estimated the amount of plastic required in a diagnostic test for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Study: Will the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic become an ecological catastrophe?  Plastic urgently needs to be replaced by ecologically sound materials.  Credit: tilialucida/Shutterstock
Study: Will the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic become an ecological catastrophe? Plastic urgently needs to be replaced by ecologically sound materials. Credit: tilialucida/Shutterstock

introduction

The virological diagnosis of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is carried out either after viral genome or antigen detection. These methods, along with transport packaging and special reagents, require plastic consumption in amounts that may individually seem negligible, but are very high in a pandemic context.

Studies have pointed out the ecologically unsound use of plastics in terms of their manufacture from fossil hydrocarbon materials that contribute to global warming, and their disposal leading to large scale microscopic and macroscopic pollution. Furthermore, the recent detection of plastic microparticles in human blood has highlighted the magnitude of this pollution and is a major concern for world leaders.

About the study

In the present study, researchers evaluated the amount of plastic required in a diagnostic antigen or molecular test of COVID-19.

The team used a simple method to assess the amount of plastic required for a COVID-19 diagnostic test, without considering the plastic used to transport the samples and the plastic used in personal protective equipment (PPE). The team weighed the reagents used to obtain a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or antigen test result in the hospital. In 2021, the team’s laboratory performed a total of 3,62,000 PCR tests to detect COVID-19.

Results

The study results showed that each ready-to-use antigen assay contained approximately 20g of plastic. The PCR assay contained nearly 0.2 g of plastic per sample for each plastic microtiter plate used to evaluate a nasopharyngeal sample containing nearly 18 g of plastic per sample. Approximately 4 g of plastic per sample was found in the nucleic acids extracted from the sample.

In addition, the team found 4 g of plastic per sample in the microtiter plate and 7.8 g of plastic per sample in the micropipette tips.

In addition, the PCR process consumed almost 30 g of plastic per sample. The entire PCR evidence required a total of 10,860 kg of plastic. In particular, 7,198,479 antigen tests and 7,002,012 PCR tests performed in 2021 in the Occitania region required a total of 210 tons of plastic for PCR and 144 tons for antigen tests.

Conclusion

The study results underscore the urgent need to redefine paradigms in the healthcare industry, particularly those that affect the use of raw materials and the disposal of manufactured products, while ensuring processes are environmentally friendly. The standardized method of disposing of organic materials does not prevent the use of green raw materials with a lower impact on the planet.

The researchers suggest that the study implies that several aspects of the current healthcare system require re-examination.

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