COVID-19: Piles of expired PPE and rapid antigen tests to be converted into alternative fuel or recycled

A testing centre at the Samoan Assembly of God Church in Mangere, South Auckland.

Expired masks, gowns and gloves ordered for use during the COVID pandemic will be turned into fuel, wood chips or decking.
picture: RNZ/Marika Khabbazi

Expired COVID-19 supplies of personal protective equipment and rapid antigen tests will be converted into alternative fuels or recycled.

Health New Zealand said Enviro New Zealand has been contracted to manage the disposal of about 51 million individual masks, gowns, gloves and other items later this month.

About 65 per cent of the wood will be converted into fuel, used to make wood chips for gardens and playgrounds, or recycled as slip sheets or decking, said Dr Nick Chamberlain, director of the National Public Health Service.

“We’re talking about 8000 pallets, 51 million individual items, significant surplus stock.

“Every region in the world is facing this problem and is looking for solutions to dispose of their excess and expired supplies.”

Enviro NZ was using much of the exhausted supply to co-process with wood waste and tyres to make fuel to replace coal.

Cement manufacturer Golden Bay will use it to produce cement clinker.

The remaining expired supplies will go through a dual process, with RAT and PPE stock packaging recycled, storage pallets reused, cut into colourful garden/playground decorative wood pieces, or shredded and used as biofuel.

Express corona test. Positive covid antigen test.

Packaging made from RAT will be recycled.

The plastic material will be sold for further processing into slip sheets, plastic decking or similar items.

“Enviro NZ, which has a good track record in sustainable landfill management, will take the remaining waste and dispose of it responsibly to minimise environmental impact,” Mr Chamberlain said.

“The local facility is operated in a safe and sustainable manner to ensure the protection of the surrounding land, air and water.”

The entire process was expected to take four months.

Chamberlain said the cost of the contract was commercially sensitive but represented “value for money” and was within the budget set out in Covid funding.

“We had 16 different options put forward by seven different companies so it was a very competitive tender process.”

Being left with surplus or expired stocks has always been one of the risks that came with the need to procure large quantities to meet “unpredictable and significant fluctuations in demand and logistics as the pandemic progressed and thereafter came under control”.

“New Zealand is at the end of a very long supply chain, and we can't afford not to have adequate protection for our people.”

Chamberlain said Health New Zealand maintained a 12-week stockpile of PPE for a future pandemic situation.

“We don't know when it will happen, but we have to be prepared.”

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