Re-usable COVID-19 tests need to be reliable, sterile and easily accessible to everyone. Due to the re-usable nature, they can be supplied more widely and have less of a carbon footprint. Many single-use plastic products which until recently have been used on mass, e.g. women’s sanitary products have now had new, more sustainable alternatives put to market e.g. the menstrual cup. This same principal can be applied to COVID-19 testing, as similarly to the menstrual cup, the testing equipment would need to be easily sanitised at home after each use and like the menstrual cup, this could be done either in boiling water or in the microwave.
The swab used in the test could be made from a material such as silicone (due to its heat resistance characteristics), similarly to menstrual cups, and sanitised directly after use. Instructions for this home sanitation process would need to be included in the testing pack, but it could entail either submerging in boiling water or being placed in the microwave.
Similarly to the swab, the extraction tube could easily be sanitised and re-used after testing.
The buffer solution used in the testing process is divided into small plastic capsules which are then double packaged. Could this not be produced in small bottles with an airtight pipette top, and directions included for how many drops should be used per test? This alternative would substantially lower plastic usage, as the bottle wouldn’t need to be plastic-wrapped.
The plastic waste bags are not necessary to use at all, unless the test comes back as positive in which case, the safe disposal of the test would be important. However these would not be needed at all, if most parts of the test were re-used.
The test strip would be the hardest part of the testing kit to make sustainable and re-usable. The most similar product available on the market would be the digital pregnancy test, however producing these for nationwide distribution would be a long, and expensive process which is unlikely to be government funded. Due to this, there would need to be a charge for this part of the testing kit. However the market for this could be bigger than we realise, as many people who strive to live as sustainably as possible are likely not content with the current weekly disposal of COVID-19 testing equipment, so would happily make a one-off payment for a test strip which could be used unlimited times.
This may not a realistic fix to the sustainability issue of disposable COVID-19 testing, however I do think this issue is something that needs to be further considered and even making one product within the testing kit re-usable could make a significant difference.