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Medical kits made from chewing gum and fridge parts

An LFT device and prototypes
An existing LFT device and prototypes made from recycled material

An academic at a Scottish university has developed a method for turning discarded chewing gum and plastic into devices that will cut medical waste.

Gum collected from the streets as well as high impact polystyrene used in refrigerators has been used to produce prototype lateral flow test (LFT) devices which came to public prominence during the Covid pandemic.

Working with an English moulding company, Professor Maïwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas, a professor in microfluidic engineering at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, is keen to cut the amount of medical equipment ending up in landfill or incinerators.

It is estimated that more than four billion lateral flow tests are manufactured annually and the market is set to grow in value from $43 billion in 2022 to $72bn by the end of 2024.

Maïwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas

About 16,000 tonnes of plastics are produced globally for rapid testing every year with an average test containing 10-15g of single-use virgin plastic.  Because of issues due to sorting and potential contamination, very few of the plastics used in medical testing are recycled.

Professor Kersaudy-Kerhoas said: “If we can make LFTs out of sustainable materials and without the use of fossil fuels in their production, we can save between 30 and 80% of carbon emissions that virgin plastic processing produces.

“We’ve now had approval to test these prototypes, making sure they function as well as the existing ones, particularly regarding the flow of liquid on the testing strip.

“As well as demonstrating feasibility in their practical application, these new devices help to support a wide ranging discussion around healthcare sustainability in general and how we might develop a circular economy through potential changes in procurement and legislation”

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