SureScreen Australia is set to produce biodegradable testing kits at a newly established $35-million factory in Acacia Ridge, a groundbreaking move towards addressing the global plastic waste crisis.
This ambitious venture comes as the medical sector strives to prevent a recurrence of the staggering amounts of non-recyclable plastic waste generated during the height of the pandemic.
SureScreen Australia’s Managing Director, Troy Stewart, highlights the urgency of this initiative, which aims to provide an eco-friendly alternative to the disposable testing kits that have contributed significantly to the issue of plastic pollution.
A Sustainable Response to the Plastic Pollution Challenge
At the peak of the pandemic, billions of single-use diagnostic kits were utilised worldwide, alongside 412 million malaria tests, three million tuberculosis tests, and 2.4 million HIV tests. To tackle this growing problem, SureScreen Australia is embracing biodegradable plastics in its test cassettes and component bags, offering a sustainable substitute for conventional non-recyclable materials.
SureScreen Australia is an offshoot of its UK-based parent company, SureScreen Diagnostics, which boasts over 25 years of experience in manufacturing medical diagnostics for infectious diseases, vector-borne viruses, health screening, and substance abuse.
Acquisition of Acacia Ridge Facility to Localise Production
SureScreen Australia has acquired an existing manufacturing facility situated in Acacia Ridge, a mere 25-minute drive south of Brisbane’s CBD, to commence local production of these innovative biodegradable kits. The factory is scheduled to commence operations by the end of 2024, with the potential to generate up to 300 jobs, thus contributing to the regional economy.
SureScreen Diagnostics, headquartered in Derby and Nottingham in the UK, has spearheaded the development of the world’s first mass-produced COVID-19 lateral flow test cassettes constructed from biodegradable materials. The inaugural shipment of these Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)-approved tests is destined for Western Australia, marking a significant milestone in addressing plastic pollution on a global scale.
David Campbell, a director at SureScreen, explains that the company meticulously examined every component of their testing kits to identify opportunities for reducing materials and substituting them with environmentally-friendly alternatives. The kits now incorporate PBAT (Polybutylene Adipate Terephthalate) and PLA (Polylactic Acid) materials that biodegrade at a significantly accelerated rate compared to traditional materials.
“We have analysed everything used to make a full kit to see where firstly we can reduce materials and secondly what alternative materials could improve the sustainability of the kits,” Mr Campbell said.
“Two of the big changes we are currently making is the use of PBAT and PLA for the test cassette and component bags. Both materials biodegrade a lot faster than traditional materials (depending on the environment – years rather than centuries.)
“This is just the start, and we are continuing to research and trial other plant-based materials throughout the kits to make them more sustainable.
“We hope other lateral flow test manufacturers will also move to using more sustainable materials wherever possible.
“We would welcome their collaboration on this project and we are very happy to share all of our research to help other companies move to using more sustainable materials.”
A Strategic and Sustainable Initiative
Mr Stewart underscores the company’s commitment to addressing the pervasive issue of plastic pollution, emphasising that this strategic acquisition in Queensland marks the initiation of a comprehensive three-year project. This endeavour is anticipated to foster employment opportunities across various sectors, from ports to agricultural regions, as it encompasses the procurement of raw organic materials and collaboration with Australian universities.
Aligning with Queensland’s Sustainability Goals
SureScreen’s substantial investment aligns seamlessly with the Queensland government’s 10-year resource recovery industries roadmap, as well as Australia’s commitment to building a sustainable circular economy. Stewart assures that the production capacity can scale up to five million tests per week, eliminating the need for panic buying or stockpiling. He underscores the significance of biodegradable test kits for COVID-19 as a step towards sustainable medical solutions and a means to address single-use plastic issues within the healthcare sector.
Mr Stewart emphasises SureScreen’s particular focus on Queensland due to its strategic location in proximity to Pacific island nations and remote Indigenous and Torres Strait Island regions. The company is exploring opportunities in areas such as Sepsis and Alzheimer’s, which hold great potential for both domestic and export markets to support their British partners based in Nottingham.
The company is presently engaged in advanced discussions with several Australian health organizations regarding the utilisation of their biodegradable products. This initiative represents a significant stride in identifying sustainable manufacturing practices within the healthcare industry.