States wash hands of 40,000 bathtubs worth of sanitiser

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Hand sanitizer that could fill more than 40,000 bathtubs has been turned over to waste companies, expired and become a hazard.

NSW and Western Australia have moved to throw away tonnes of sanitiser bottles after supply exceeded demand towards the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

HealthShare NSW, which manages government stockpiles of personal protective equipment and medical supplies, said it is working with industry to develop sustainable solutions for expired supplies.

“This includes awarding contracts to Veolia and Cleanaway to process 7,150 tonnes of hand sanitiser into reusable raw materials,” a spokeswoman told AAP.

Children use hand disinfectant.

Hand sanitizer supplies exceeded demand in the final stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That amount of hand sanitizer could fill 42,000 standard bathtubs or three and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools.

HealthShare NSW declined to disclose the value of the contracts, citing legal reasons.

In another agreement with Cleanaway, WA Health Support Services paid $187,000 in September to collect and dispose of expired hand sanitiser, reportedly 134,580 bottles.

A month earlier, Cleanaway was called in by the NSW education department to remove expired disinfectant, at a cost of $536,000.

“A lot of it is in schools and should be managed under environmental safety laws as a hazardous material and we are disposing of it that way,” Anthony Manning, department head for school infrastructure, told parliament this month. .

Australia’s medicines regulator says sanitisers must contain at least 60 percent alcohol.

“A high alcohol content means it has a high flammability, so it is a fire hazard if you store a lot of it,” RMIT chemistry professor Oliver Jones told AAP.

Although it was outside his expertise and had not tried it himself, Prof Jones suggested that such a high alcohol content could allow expired disinfectant to be repurposed for general cleaning.

“The alcohol in it is a good solvent, so it can maybe be used on floors or surfaces or things that you would normally use rubbing alcohol for,” he said.

HealthShare NSW said the government-wide warehouse has been established to manage the storage and distribution of “a significant amount” of medical consumables and personal protective equipment for all NSW government agencies including police, health, education and corrections.

The agency, which typically supports back-of-house operations for NSW Health, later came to manage the warehouse.

HealthShare NSW was out of expired hand sanitiser.

“We are constantly scanning the market for new, cost-effective and sustainable inventory management solutions,” a spokeswoman told AAP.

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