By GLEN NORRIS
SENIOR BUSINESS REPORTER
4:39PM DECEMBER 28, 2023
Health company SureScreen Australia will produce biodegradable testing kits from a new $35m factory in Brisbane as the medical sector seeks to avoid a repeat of the millions of tonnes of non-recyclable plastic waste created during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
SureScreen Australia managing director Troy Stewart said the factory in Brisbane’s southern outskirts would address the growing global problem of plastic pollution, which was worsened by the one-time-use testing kits.
Several billion single-use diagnostic kits were used each year during the worst of the pandemic on top of 412 million malaria tests, three million tuberculosis tests and 2.4 million HIV tests.
Mr Stewart said Surecreen used biodegradable plastics in its test cassettes and component bags, creating a sustainable alternative to traditional non-recyclable materials.
The tests are currently produced at the company’s UK-based parent SureScreen Diagnostics, which has more than 25 years of experience in manufacturing medical diagnostics for infectious diseases, vector-borne viruses, health screening, and substance abuse.
SureScreen Australia has acquired an existing manufacturing facility in Acacia Ridge, 25 minutes south of Brisbane’s CBD, to locally produce the biodegradable kits The factory is expected to be in production by the end of 2024 and create up to 300 jobs
SureScreen Diagnostics, based in Derby and Nottingham in the UK, has pioneered the world’s first mass-produced Covid-19 lateral flow test cassettes made from biodegradable materials. The first shipment of these TGA-approved tests are destined for Western Australia.
“Having exported tests to over 50 countries, the company is committed to addressing the global issue of plastic pollution,” Mr Stewart said.
“This strategic acquisition in Queensland marks the beginning of an estimated three-year initiative. The project will also stimulate employment opportunities extending from ports to agricultural sectors, as it involves procuring raw organic materials and collaborating with Australian universities.”
SureScreen director David Campbell said the company analysed everything used to make a full kit to see where it could reduce materials and what alternative materials could improve sustainability.
The kits contain both PBAT (Polybutylene Adipate Terephthalate) and PLA (Polylactic Acid) materials that biodegrade a lot faster than traditional materials.
“Depending on the environment, it’s years rather than centuries,” Mr Campbell said. “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.”
Mr Stewart said the investment aligned with the Queensland government’s 10-year resource recovery industries road map as well as Australia’s approach to a sustainable circular economy.
“With a capacity to scale orders exclusively for Australia’s health sectors up to five million tests per week, there is no need for panic purchasing or stockpiling,” he said.
“The development of biodegradable test kits for Covid-19 using sustainable materials is not only a step towards sustainable medical solutions but also opens doors for addressing single-use plastic issues in healthcare.”
He said the company was now in advanced discussions with several Australian health companies on the use of its products.
“This initiative is a significant step in identifying sustainable manufacturing practices within the healthcare industry,” he said.
Mr Stewart said SureScreen was particularly focused on Queensland and its geographical position close to Pacific island nations and remote Indigenous and Torres Strait Island regions.
“We are exploring areas (for testing) such as Sepsis, and Alzheimer’s which are of significant interest for future domestic and export markets to support our British partners in Nottingham,” he said
“Our focus is on providing quick, easy-to-use tests while promoting responsible medical practices and sustainable medical solutions derived from local raw materials.”