Are Lateral Flow Tests Clinical Waste?

Waste Management

infographic on lateral flow testing waste disposal With covid-19 cases rising across the UK impacted by new, more transmissible variants of the virus, there are plans to roll out lateral flow devices to secondary schools and colleges in weeks to come. Lateral flow tests offer mass testing in communities that could benefit from a fast rapid result such as schools and care homes. While children aged 1-18 are less likely to be severely ill with the virus, this doesn’t stop the virus from spreading to other educational staff, adults and the wider community. 

While over a million lateral flow tests have already been rolled out in care homes, it’s vitally important that they are disposed of correctly; particularly as more public settings will be using the devices.  Keep reading to find out what a lateral flow test is and how they should be disposed of correctly. 

What are Lateral Flow Tests? 

Lateral flow devices (LFDs) are one of the latest tools being used to help detect and fight COVID-19. These tests detect the majority of cases that contain high levels of the virus present without showing any symptoms and are therefore most likely to transmit the virus to others without realising. These tests are designed to be a quick and convenient option to allow results to be delivered in under 30 minutes, ideal for large communities such as care homes, schools and universities. 

How are Lateral Flow Tests being rolled out in Schools? 

All ‘consenting’ pupils will have a test. Those who identify as ‘positive,’ will leave the premises and will need a PCR test. Anyone who has a positive LFD test result will need to leave school or college and take a confirmatory PCR test and follow self-isolation guidelines.

How does the PCR test compare to the lateral flow test? 

During the recent global pandemic, the government has rolled out two types of testing to encourage mass testing; helping to detect the presence of covid-19 and preventing the spread of the virus further.  While these tests do involve both taking swabs from the nose or throat, they do have a few key differences. 

The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is currently regarded as the ‘gold standard’ of tests. The PCR test is highly reliable and has been used to support the NHS Test and Trace with the capacity to carry out over 500,000 tests every single day in order to prevent further outbreaks. However, as results for these tests can take up to 48 hours to show, such tests are prioritised for individuals showing COVID-19 symptoms to enable them to get the treatment they need while being able to trace their recent contact and break the chain of transmission.  

The Lateral Flow test (can also be referred to as a rapid test) involves a handheld kit that can offer results in under 30 minutes. The test involves taking a nasal swab or saliva in which the fluid from the swab goes on one end of the stick, a marking will appear if the test has come back positive. While these tests have lower sensitivity compared to the PCR tests studies show they can detect higher viral loads from each swab meaning they can be particularly useful in detecting individuals who are infectious but show no symptoms. 

When should Lateral Flow Tests be used?

Lateral flow tests are designed to identify COVID-19 particles through a swab test for patients who are asymptomatic where the virus would not otherwise be detected.  we would not be otherwise able to detect the virus. LFDs should be used in communities where rapid testing is encouraged to prevent the outbreak of the virus such as in care homes and in schools where children have been proven to show as asymptomatic. 

If you are showing symptoms related to Covid-19, you should not have a lateral flow test as this may give a false-negative result and lead to a false-reassurance which could cause the virus to spread further. Instead, anyone experiencing suspected Covid-19 symptoms such as a continuous cough, high fever or loss of smell/taste should isolate and request a PCR test at your nearest test centre. 

How Effective is the Lateral Flow Test? 

Lateral flow tests have been proven by the Government to have a positive impact in working towards the fight against Covid-19 and helping to reduce the spread of outbreaks within large communities. The LFD tests offer 99.6% specificity and while it shows lower sensitivity compared to PCR test, it is exceptionally effective at identifying the virus in asymptomatic patients who would have been likely to spread the virus further. By having the LFD tests available in such environments, it means they can help communities to act fast, break chains of transmissions and save lives. 

For more information on how to carry out testing using the lateral flow kits, read up on the latest NHS guidance.

Are Lateral Flow Tests Classified as Clinical Waste? 

The Department of Health and Social Care have stated that any swabs, cartridges and devices associated with the LFD tests are likely to be contaminated liquid chemicals. These are not classified as clinical waste, neither deemed infectious therefore they must not be disposed of following the clinical waste disposal system. 

Due to the liquid chemical content involved in the lateral flow tests, they must be treated by Incineration (Energy from Waste). Disposal of waste treated as Incineration must remain visible during the waste management chain in order to prevent improper disposal. 

What is Clinical Waste?

Clinical waste is classified as waste that arises from medical, nursing, dental or similar environments that may pose harm to others through injury or cross-contamination leading to infection. Examples of clinical waste include syringes, needles, bandages and dressings that have been contaminated with blood or other sharps instruments.

For more information, visit our article on clinical waste management.

Why It’s Important to Dispose of Clinical Waste Properly

It is important businesses follow government guidelines on the best practices to handle and dispose of clinical waste to reduce the risk of cross-contamination and to keep staff, visitors and patients safe against dangerous exposure to medicine, bodily fluids and other contaminated equipment or sharps. Without proper waste management disposal systems in place, there can be an increased risk of the spreading of serious infections along with damage to the environment. 

Safe Management of Healthcare Waste issued by The Department of Health stipulates that clinical waste producers should follow the colour-coded waste segregation system to help identify and dispose of waste properly in order to keep staff and visitors safe. By adopting this clinical waste management system you can ensure your business is informed of the best-practices of handling and disposing of the different categories of waste.

Download our infographic on how to properly colour-code your clinical waste.

Disposing of Lateral Flow Tests 

As the waste from LFD testing is not classified as clinical waste due to the liquid chemical content, these must be treated by Incineration and disposed of in a tiger bag where possible to prevent mis-handling or inappropriate disposal treatment where they could risk ending up in landfill.

Where clear bags are not available, it’s advised you speak to your waste management contractor to agree on an appropriate disposal system to achieve the desired treatment route of incineration. They may agree to use other types of non-clinical waste bags such as white, black labelled as non-hazardous. 

Under no circumstances must LFD tests be disposed of in orange clinical waste bags as they are not classified as clinical waste. 

If you are using a self-administered LFD test that has given a negative result, these should be disposed of in domestic waste as normal. Positive results should be double wrapped in a clear bag and held for 72 hours before disposal in domestic waste. 

Waste can be stored in yellow storage containers or other rooms in your building before your waste management company collects them. If your waste is being stored in storage rooms, you may want to talk to a professional company regarding disinfection services. Citron Hygiene offer our Sani-Plus disinfection service is a powerful 360-degree coverage solution, that is effective at killing viruses in just 5 minutes.  

Download the full infographic for more information on disposing of lateral flow tests

Treatment and Disposal Methods including EWC codes

Outer Packaging 

The Outer packaging of the device can be placed in the normal municipal route (black bin bags) and will be disposed of in landfill. 
The EWC code for domestic waste is: 20.03.01 

Lateral Flow Device 

The swab, vial and cartridge should be disposed of in a tiger bag. The EWC code for healthcare waste classified as chemical is 18.01.07 + 18.01.04. The disposal route is clinical incineration or municipal incineration. 

PPE waste 

PPE is classified as healthcare offensive waste and should be disposed of in an untagged separate tiger bag under EWC code 18.01.04. Waste should be disposed of by municipal incineration and at a last resort, landfill. 

It is important to note that neither the LFD waste or PPE waste should be mixed. It is also recommended that PPE should be changed after every test is conducted. 

Lateral Flow Tests and PPE Waste Disposal Services

Citron Hygiene are licensed to carry and store non-clinical waste for Incineration. With over 45 years of experience, our specialist staff are compliant all the latest waste disposal legislation and our nationwide service ensure that you have a local, friendly team on hand to keep your business running smoothly. For further enquiries please contact us.

To ensure correct segregation between PPE and lateral flow test waste, Citron will provide tags to be attached to waste for easy identification. Find out more information on how we are supporting schools with effective and safe waste disposal.