Hong Kong’s mandatory COVID tests in schools fuel plastic waste problems

HONG KONG, April 29 (Reuters) – A Hong Kong government rule that all school students and staff take daily COVID-19 tests will add massively to the city’s plastic waste problem, environmental activists say, with some 20 million kits per month. dumped in bursting landfills.

Mandatory rapid antigen tests (RATs) and their plastic paraphernalia are set to worsen marine and land pollution in the financial hub of 7.4 million people where some beaches and hiking trails are already flooded with microplastics.

Each day, the school district, which resumed face-to-face classes this month, will use 760,000 sets of RAT kits that include a plastic bag, a tube and a bottle, said Edwin Lau, founder of the environmental organization The Green Earth.

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“This is just an estimate for one day, so one can imagine the horrifying volume of waste from the daily rapid test,” he said, adding that the government should have advised residents to recycle items in paper and the plastic bag, but instead encouraged that they throw everything in the trash.

“If they had advised the public (to recycle), the city would have saved at least some resources and reduced some waste.”

RAT tests are already failing on the pristine beaches of the Soko Islands, located in the far southwest of the city.

Over the past year, Hong Kong has generated a colossal amount of disposable plastic waste from quarantine hotels and isolation facilities, which is not being recycled for fear of contamination.

The city’s three landfills are nearing capacity as waste management lagged mainland China and cities like Singapore and Taiwan even before COVID-19.

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The government said in an email response to Reuters that it was “reasonable to expect” an increase in disposable waste, such as masks, RATs and disposable plastic tableware. He encouraged an ecological lifestyle “as far as possible” while respecting public hygiene.

Official figures show a 33% increase in disposable plastic items in 2020, with environmentalists expecting waste to have risen further since 2021 as authorities strive to implement a ‘Dynamic zero’ COVID strategy .

To compound the crisis, there have been towering piles of polystyrene boxes on the streets since February. Used for daily food deliveries from China, they are usually sent back to the mainland for reuse, but truckers have been banned from bringing them back across the border.

An eating ban, which prevented customers from eating in restaurants after 6 p.m. until April 20, has led to an increase in the number of take-out boxes.

Due to a mandatory mask rule, if every person in Hong Kong wears a single-use mask daily, “its 225 million masks potentially go to landfill every month or end up in our environment,” said Dana Winograd, co-founder and director of Plastic Free. Seas

“We have been doing this for two years.

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Reporting by Farah Master; edited by Richard Pullin

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Bryce K. Locke