Plastic Pregnancy Tests: What’s Inside Yours?

When you suspected you were pregnant, you probably ran out to the chemist like I did and bought yourself a well-known branded pregnancy test. And not just the one either; how many of us have bought two or three tests just to ‘make sure’? I’ve been pregnant three times, and have taken many tests while trying to conceive (plus a few more over the preceding years) but what I never really asked myself was just how much plastic is used to make these tests, and, crucially, whether any of this plastic was even necessary?

It was only when Rob and I were actively trying for a baby, and I was finding myself spending quite a bit of money on tests, that I looked into a cheaper alternative that I could use throughout my cycle without breaking the bank —or filling the landfill. It was then that I discovered another type of pregnancy test that I’d never seen before: a tiny cardboard strip that had no plastic casing and no bulky packaging, that I could buy as a pack of 10 or 20 on Amazon for a fraction of the price of the shop-bought version. What I hadn’t realised, was that I had seen them before; the NHS use them as standard, and indeed my own GP had used one when I went to her to confirm my pregnancy with my son Odhrán.

The simple cardboard testing strip that your NHS GP or maternity unit will use to test if you’re pregnant has no plastic casing but works just as well.

If you take apart a plastic pregnancy test kit and look inside, what’s even more intriguing is that there is even one of these tiny strips inside it anyway! The bulky plastic around the strip is essentially just a single-use plastic case, making it a bit easier to hold, to give it a more aesthetically pleasing look, and to make it marginally easier to read. I decided to investigate mine, opening up both my Clearblue Early Pregnancy Test and their Digital version too, to see what was inside.

Inside the Clearblue Early Pregnancy Test. That little strip on the left of the photo (with the blue line) is the testing strip. The only bit that actually tests if you’re pregnant or not! The rest is essentially a single-use plastic case.

Inside the Clearblue Early Pregnancy Test:

  • Two-part white plastic case with results window cut-out
  • Urine pad
  • Blue cap
  • Testing strip with blue line
  • Blue foil packet
  • Instruction pamphlet
  • Box
  • Cellophane wrapping

The only part you need out of all of this is the tiny little strip with the blue line on it! That strip is the bit that actually tests the hormone in your urine to tell you whether or not you’re pregnant, and it’s similar to the tiny cardboard strip that you can buy for a fraction of the price on Amazon.

The Clearblue Digital test. Spot the testing strip in the middle? That’s the only bit you really need.

Inside the Clearblue Digital Pregnancy Test:

  • Two-part white plastic case with results window cut-out
  • Blue cap (missing from this photo)
  • Urine pad
  • Small piece of wadding
  • Black plastic case for digital reader
  • Desiccant moisture-absorbing tablet
  • Black plastic strip with digital screen
  • Testing strip with blue line
  • Foil wrapper
  • Instruction pamphlet
  • Box
  • Cellophane wrapper

What is important to know here, is that both these plastic kits do essentially the same job as the little cardboard strip version, but all the extra plastic is just there to give you a different reading experience. All of them have the tiny testing strip which is where the HcG pregnancy hormone will turn the ink blue (or pink, depending on your choice of test), so the question is, do we really need the bulky plastic casing as well, not to mention the digital screen? The simple cardboard strips are easy to use if you just read the instructions, and to be honest, not that different from the branded version: let’s face it, all of them require you to wee on the end of the strip, wait for a few minutes and then check to see how many lines show up!

In this photo you can see the difference in the amount of waste generated by the simple strip, compared to the branded test kits. The cardboard strips come in packs of 10, 20 or more, all in just one small plastic bag with one (unlaminated) paper instruction note. It makes you think, doesn’t it!!

Now there is even a flushable, 100% biodegradable pregnancy test coming to the market, which will hopefully make these other big brands think twice about using so much plastic in theirs. It’s called LIA and it weighs less than 4 squares of toilet paper, is easy to read and can be flushed down the toilet when you’re done. It will biodegrade in as little as 10 weeks according to their website. Now that is something! They aren’t on sale yet, but you can join their mailing list to be notified when they are.

In the meantime, if you’re keen to cut down on your single-use plastics, the simple test strips you can buy on Amazon that I’ve discussed here make a good, ecological alternative to using bulky plastic testing kits, and I can tell you that I’ve used them, and they work. You can read about my experience testing with them in my blog Am I pregnant: How early can you test?

Let me know your experience of using pregnancy tests, and whether you’d make the switch to a more ecological choice next time!

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents; check out her Instagram page @the_amateur_mama:

Am I pregnant? How early can I take a pregnancy test?

If you think you might be pregnant, it can be excruciating waiting until the first day of your missed period to test and find out. But just how early can you test? I am currently 17 weeks pregnant, and while I was waiting to see if I’d conceived, I experimented with different tests to try and find out as quickly as possible. Because of the expense, and the plastic, I didn’t want to start testing too early and waste a branded shop-bought plastic stick, so instead, I purchased some simple One Step pregnancy test strips from Amazon for only £3.29 for 20, so that I could test daily without worrying about the expense, or the plastic waste!

These simple (and cheap!) strips do the same thing as the bulky plastic ones, but cost much less and waste far less plastic. Win win!

These little cardboard strips can be dipped in urine and will detect hCG if you’re pregnant, displaying two maroon/pink lines for a positive result. They are the same ones that your GP will use if you visit them for a pregnancy test (I can vouch for this as I have seen them do it!). They’re pretty easy to use if you read the instructions carefully.

I had been monitoring my ovulation with Ovusense and knew that I had ovulated on day 12 of my cycle. All the advice online seemed to agree that with sensitive tests, you can test from about 10 days after ovulation (10DPO or ’10 days post ovulation’). On day 23 of my cycle, 11 days after I’d ovulated, and 5 days before my expected period, I used one of the One Step hCG strips, and found that if I looked really, really carefully in the right light, I could see what I thought was a line; an almost completely invisible line, that is. Was it my imagination? I couldn’t be sure either way, because of the possible confusion with an ‘evaporation line’ (more on that below!), so I tested again the next day, and for a few days after that. Here were my results:

The Ovusense monitor, which I was using to track my ovulation.

-Cycle Day 23 (11DPO): Practically invisible test line, almost entirely undetectable to the naked eye.

-Cycle Day 24 (12DPO): Almost the same as Day 23, but a ghostly-faint, colourless, almost invisible test line which can be detected when photographed and turned into a negative (see here for how to do this!) is present.

-Cycle Day 25 (13DPO): Very little change, but the test line today is every so slightly more visible than Day 24, especially its top left hand corner.

-Cycle Day 26 (14DPO): The test line is now visible, especially at its top left, where the ink meets the edge of the strip. The left hand side of the line is defined and straight, but it’s still hard to make out any pink colour.

-Cycle Day 27 (15DPO): The left hand side of the test line is now obvious and its right hand side is more defined.

-Cycle Day 28 (16DOP): The test line is now unmistakable, especially on the left border, where some colour is visible. The positive result is confirmed with a First Response test.

On the strips above, the maroon line on the right is the ‘control’ line and the fainter lines on the left are the ‘test’ lines. The presence of a visible test line indicates a positive result.

So what is an evaporation line and why should you beware?! An evaporation line is a really faint line that can show up where the test line would be if you leave it sitting around for too long after you’ve weed on it. It’s NOT a positive result, but equally, it isn’t a confirmation that you’re not pregnant. You should discard the test, re-test on subsequent days and make sure you read the result in the time specified.

I used one of my First Response tests the previous month, a day or so before my period was due. When I didn’t see a test line appear at first, I put the stick aside, still (mistakenly) convinced that I might be pregnant. The next day I looked at it again (yep, obsessed!) and saw what I thought was an extremely faint positive result line showing up, which made me wonder if it was in fact positive after all. When I called First Response to ask them, they told me that you should never read a test after the time limit specified in the instructions, and that what I was seeing was most likely an evaporation line, which is where the urine evaporates off the test line and leaves a faint, colourless mark. Sure enough, my period arrived the next day on that occasion!

You can avoid the confusion by reading the test within the time window specified in the instructions, and also, by taking a photo of your test, and using an app to turn it into a negative. This method is quite useful also if your test line is really, really faint, as mine were on the first days I was testing. Read how to do this here.

So there you have it, my verdict on testing early! If you’re (impatient!) like me and you want to avoid the expense and planet-destruction of using loads of plastic branded pregnancy tests when you’re testing every day, then I highly recommend the One Step pregnancy test strips. Then, if you really want confirmation from a well-known brand, you could get one test stick just to make sure. I chose the First Response test.

Good luck!

Found this article helpful? You may also be interested in my related blog Pregnancy Tests: Is there a line or am I imagining things?! , where I explain how to read a really faint result on an early pregnancy test.

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents. You can follow her on Instagram @the_amateur_mama . Rob can also be found there @the_amateurdad