Maribor uni and hospital team up to make Covid tests recyclable
The Maribor Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and the University Meical Centre Maribor are involved in a project that will make it possible to recycle rapid antigen tests. The single-use Covid-19 tests are currently treated as hazardous waste and incinerated, wasting €15,000 per million tests in plastic and gold.
Antigen tests currently cannot be recycled as the two main materials they are made from, white plastic and nanoparticles, cannot be separated using existing technology. Antibody labelled gold nanoparticles detect a viral protein and show up as a red line when the sample is positive.
Presenting the project on 24 March, Rebeka Rudolf of the Maribor faculty noted that when incinerating one million tests with nano particles, 0.1 grammes of gold and 5,000 kilogrammes of plastic go to waste. This waste accounts for roughly €15,000.
Plans on how to separate the two materials are now underway with Rudolf's colleague Tilen Švarc explaining that gold nanoparticles can be used to synthesise new nanoparticles or in different cosmetics and optics products. Recycled plastic from the tests can be used in electrical installation casings.
The UKC Maribor alone produced 1,854 tonnes of waste in 2020, of which 276 tonnes of ineffective waste, and about 2,000 rapid antigen tests a week, Martin Rakuša from the hospital said.
"Waste management is an important part of the hospital's activities because they can be a source of hospital-acquired infections as a major public health issue in Slovenia," UKC Maribor medical director Nataša Marčun Varda said.
The biggest challenge for them is how to eliminate the risks of virus contamination. The virus can be destroyed using heat, but the project explored alternative options to avoid unnecessary waste of energy. A study in cooperation with the Veterinary Faculty showed that the virus is destroyed after tests are quarantined for 20 days.
Other partners in the €700,000 worth project funded by the Norway Grant are Faculty of Polymer Technology, Institute of Metals and Technology and companies Plastika Skaza, Surovina and Zlatarna Celje. In a later stage of the project, other healthcare institutions and individuals will be invited to participate by helping collect used tests.