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LCQ20: Reducing impacts of rapid antigen test kits on environment
     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hoi-yan and a written reply by the Secretary for Environment and Ecology, Mr Tse Chin-wan, in the Legislative Council today (November 23):
     It has been reported that each day, at least more than 80 tonnes of rapid antigen test (RAT) kits for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 turn into waste in Hong Kong after being used, adding to the burden on landfills and causing environmental pollution. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) given that since February 26 this year, the Government has been directly deeming members of the public who tested positive using RAT kits for self-testing as positive cases, whether the authorities have compiled statistics on or estimated the accumulated and average daily quantities of RAT kits disposed of across the territory since that date; if so, of the details;
(2) as some environmentalists have pointed out that RAT kits generally contain degradation-resistant materials, whether the authorities have assessed the impacts of the materials concerned on the environment and the ecology;
(3) whether the authorities currently have systematic approaches to handle used RAT kits; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(4) of the measures put in place by the authorities to reduce the impacts of used RAT kits on the environment and the ecology, including whether they will consider having discussions with manufacturers about reducing the size of test devices and shortening the length of specimen collection swabs so as to reduce the use of plastic; and
(5) whether the authorities will consider setting up disposal boxes in public housing estates and private housing courts to collect used RAT kits centrally to facilitate their reuse after special treatment; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     In 2020, the average disposal rate of municipal solid waste (MSW) at landfills was 10 809 tonnes per day. Under the current pandemic, the quantity of rapid antigen test (RAT) kits disposed of has inevitably increased. While we have no separate statistics on such quantity, assuming that on average about 1.5 million RAT kits are used per day in Hong Kong and each on average weighs about 40 grams, their total weight would be about 60 tonnes. This, compared to the overall quantity of MSW disposed of, will not put significant additional pressure on our landfills and the environment. Moreover, such additional pressure is temporary in nature and will ease off when the pandemic subsides.
     The Government has all along been encouraging the public to adopt a green lifestyle and engage actively in waste reduction and recycling. However, for RAT kits, the testing solution inside contains chemical substances. Also, given the sensitivity of RAT, the negative result shown on a test cassette cannot preclude the possibility that a testee has been infected but is in the period of incubation or is at an early stage of infection. Therefore, we do not recommend that members of the public recycle the components of RAT kits. After conducting the test, the best practice is to wrap and seal the components properly according to the manufacturer's instructions before disposal, and wash hands afterwards. Non-contaminated test kit boxes/bags and user guides can be recycled separately as appropriate.
     Currently, various manufacturers of RAT kits around the world are supplying their products to international markets. Therefore, there is not much room for the Government to negotiate with individual manufacturers on changes to packaging or manufacturing materials of RAT kits. Nevertheless, the Government will look out for choices of RAT kits that are recognised by the relevant authorities of major markets (including Hong Kong, the Mainland, Europe and the United States) and at the same time come with less packaging.
Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Issued at HKT 11:45
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