Recycling centre turns discarded lateral flow tests and PPE into furniture

Video shows the process the plastic waste goes through before it is repurposed

A recycling company has come up with a novel solution to the plastic waste created by the pandemic, by turning discarded lateral flow tests and PPE into furniture.

ReFactory - a recycling centre based in Hull - has the facilities to recycle all mixed material plastic waste, and has provided Bangor University with one of Wales' first recycling collection boxes.

The company collects non-recyclable plastic waste and transforms the materials into children’s chairs, outdoor furniture, shop-fitting materials and even PPE collection bins.

As many as 400 million Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) have been dispatched by the UK Government since the pandemic started.

Litter picking organisations in Wales have said the number of gloves and masks found during picks is a "major problem", with scientists now suggesting that there are more facemasks in the ocean than jellyfish.

The Welsh Government advises people to dispose of lateral flow tests with their "normal household waste", which means hundreds of millions of pieces of plastic ending up in landfill.

This plastic can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, leaching potentially toxic substances into the soil and water.

Plastic waste once sent to the recycling company has to be quarantined and then it is used to create furniture and building materials. Credit: ReFactory

ReFactory offers recycling boxes to be purchased via their website by individuals, businesses, universities and city councils all over the UK, providing an opportunity to recycle all types of non-recyclable plastic waste.

Shona Stephenson from ReFactory says once the plastic waste is collected it comes back to their site over the border to be dealt with.

"It's quarantined, shredded and melted into 100% recycled plastic board which are then designed and made into practical products such as furniture, planters, shop-fitting, boarding and so much more.

"There is absolutely a negative impact on the environment due to the mass production and usage of disposable PPE. Although PPE is needed and has been increased during the pandemic, there is a demand for more sustainable options.

"However, while this happens, we are proud to be dealing with the amount of plastic pollution right now."

Some of the pieces of furniture that has been created using PPE and Lateral flow tests. Credit: ReFactory

A PHD student and researcher from Bangor University has made it her life's mission to uncover the negative impacts plastics can have on our environment.

Martine Graf, who works within Bangor's Plastic Research Center, says combating plastic is not just a professional passion, it is a personal endeavour for her too. 

She said: "I have been involved with a lot of litter picking and beach cleans. It was always something I would do before I started working here.

"It really does worry you, it's a massive issue that we have to tackle in plastic pollution in all our developed countries.

"Under the table, we often send our recycling and rubbish to other countries where they just go into landfill. 

"Things like plastic don't disappear. If you start out with a larger piece of plastic, it will degrade over time and create microplastics.

"In research, the marine environment, 80% of the plastic that ends up in the ocean is produced on land and usually comes from either the failed recycling chain, littering or agricultural waste.

"Lateral flow tests will create microplastics and would take a very long time to degrade."

This is the first time a recycling company in the UK is able to recycle lateral flow tests. Credit: PA

Martine has been working within the Plastic Research Centre and five different countries across the world to find out what impact plastic has on crops and soil.

She said: "I'm interested in the terrestrial environment in general, what happens with the plastic once it's buried and how the degradation of plastic can lead to the production of microplastic.

"Microplastic can be so small that you can't even see them with the eye. There is also a trap of recycling, only so much of what you put in the bin can get recycled. A lot of it gets lost or ends up in landfill, or gets incinerated."

Bangor's Plastic research centre plans to use the recycling box from ReFactory to dispose of their PPE, tests and small pieces of plastic.