A recycling program by Kimberly-Clark Professional has helped two Midwest universities divert almost 3 tons of waste from landfill by turning used lab gloves and garments into shelving, flowerpots and lawn and garden furniture.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Purdue University wanted to reduce their solid waste streams and shrink their environmental footprint. They looked to RightCycle, Kimberly-Clark Professional’s large-scale recycling program for non-hazardous lab and industrial waste.
Since its inception in 2011, RightCycle has diverted more than 350 metric tons of waste from landfills, according to Kimberly-Clark Professional. The company is now expanding the program to Western Europe.
“We pioneered this program because we recognized that the sustainability goals of our university and pharmaceutical customers included reducing landfill waste, and single-use gloves accounted for a large percentage of that waste,” said Randy Kates, director of the Kimberly-Clark Professional global scientific business. “We needed to find a recycling solution that helped them achieve their goals and enabled their people to be positively engaged in the process.”
RightCycle removes gloves, masks, garments, shoe covers and other apparel accessories from the waste stream and sends them to US recyclers that turn them into plastic pellets. These are then used to create consumer products and durable goods, such as lawn furniture, flowerpots and lanters, shelving, totes and storage bins.
Earlier this year is expanded the recycling program to manufacturing and other industrial environments.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, uses a lot of gloves in conducting scientific research.
“We conducted a waste audit to see how we could go to zero waste in our own building and realized that gloves were about 10 percent of our total waste by weight,” said Shantanu Pai, ISTC assistant sustainability researcher. “We were already effectively recycling other items: glass, aluminum, paper and cardboard.”
With RightCycle, ISTC achieved a 89 percent recycling rate for gloves in its labs —even higher than the rate for paper and cardboard recycling.
Because of its success in its labs, ISTC piloted the recycling program in the University’s main dining hall and achieved an estimated diversion rate of 90 percent. It is in the process of expanding the effort to all dining facilities and campus labs.
The university has purchased a storage container to house the gloves, so that shipments can be made just once a year.
Since implementing the RightCycle program in 2013, the Center and the University have diverted 4,945 pounds, or about 320,480 gloves, from landfills.
Purdue University uses about 360,000 disposable gloves — or 3.5 tons — across its campus over the course of a year. These gloves used to end up in landfills.
The university has set an 85 percent waste diversion goal, and after successfully implementing recycling programs for other materials, two years ago it turned its attention to lab gloves.
Since November 2014, the chemistry department has diverted 6,862 pounds of lab gloves from landfills, or about 444,718 gloves, through the RightCycle program.
Michael Gulich, director of campus master planning and sustainability, is looking to expand the program to other campus labs as well as food preparation areas.
“Once you address cans, bottles, paper and cardboard recycling, you get into smaller niche streams,” he said. “We have some addressed very well, such as electronics waste and landscape debris. Previously, gloves didn’t have a solution. Anything that increases our diversion rate is good.”