Plastic residues produced with confirmatory testing for COVID-19: Classification, quantification, fate, and impacts on human health

José E. Celis, Winfred Espejo, Esteban Paredes-Osses, Sonia A. Contreras, Gustavo Chiang, Paulina Bahamonde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


In March 2020, several international organizations started making recommendations regarding the need for prompt coronavirus-based diagnosis in order to prevent its spread among the world's population. The most widely used test for confirmation of COVID-19 is real-time PCR (RT-PCR). This technique uses plastic supplies in its procedures, which are 100% disposable to avoid cross-contamination and biological risks. The scientific community has become increasingly worried because of the environmental impacts associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic, such as medical plastic residues. We classified and estimated the amount of plastic residues generated as a consequence of COVID-19 diagnostic tests and analyzed the relationships of the plastics generated with number of confirmed cases, population size, and gross domestic product in each country. We evidenced that the RT-PCR generates 37.27 g of plastic residues per sample. All patients COVID-19 tested with RT-PCR have generated 15,439.59 tons of plastic residue worldwide, until August 2020. The plastic residues generated by the COVID-19 tests have no relation with size population or gross domestic product of the countries. There is also no relationship between the plastic residues generated by the COVID-19 tests and the confirmed cases. About 97% of the plastic residues from diagnostic tests for coronavirus are incinerated due to their hazardous nature to humans, but toxic chemicals are released into the environment during the process. In the short term, there is a need to reduce plastic waste and improve controls of gas emissions from incineration plants in countries where there is a deficit. In the long term, biodegradable biomedical manufacturing that are free of releasing toxic chemicals when they are incinerated, must be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Article number144167
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Air pollution
  • COVID-19
  • Environment impacts
  • Human health
  • Plastic
  • SARS-CoV-2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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