The Next Phase of Recycling: Gloves and Apparel

The Next Phase of Recycling: Gloves and Apparel

As recycling in labs and cleanrooms becomes the norm rather than the exception, facilities are becoming more proficient at recycling primary commodities such as cardboard, paper, plastic and aluminum.

But to accomplish a higher level of diversion or zero waste, nontraditional or secondary commodities must also be diverted from landfill and repurposed into usable products and durable goods.

Glove and apparel recycling is a relatively new form of recycling that is gaining traction in lab and cleanroom settings. In 2011, Kimberly-Clark Professional launched the RightCycle™ Program, the first large-scale recycling effort for nonhazardous lab, cleanroom and industrial waste. Since then, the program continues to help over 300 facilities divert more than 450 tons of waste from landfills.

As long as gloves, garments and accessories are not considered biohazardous, they can be recycled and turned into items such as:

  • Totes
  • Shelving
  • Lawn and garden furniture

It All Adds Up

Lab and cleanroom workers can use several pairs of gloves in a day. While this is necessary, the amount of waste generated really adds up.

Consider these statistics:

  • One university estimated that nearly 30 percent of its waste stream came from laboratory and research buildings
  • A University of Washington lab waste audit found that 22 percent of its research waste consisted of nitrile gloves
  • A University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) laboratory waste assessment found that nitrile gloves made up a majority of laboratory waste destined for landfills

Because of this, many labs are participating in the RightCycle Program, shipping used gloves and apparel to domestic recycling facilities where they are turned into plastic pellets and then reprocessed into durable consumer goods.

Putting Glove Recycling into Practice

The University of Washington and UCSC now participate in the RightCycle Program, as do the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) at the University of Illinois and Purdue University.

University laboratories aren’t the only facilities that have adopted this innovative recycling solution. MilliporeSigma has diverted nearly 15 tons of waste since joining the program in 2014.

The environmental benefits of glove and apparel recycling programs are evident. They take commonly used and essential lab and cleanroom products out of the solid waste stream, significantly reducing waste generation

 As Kevin O’Brien, PhD, director of ISTC, put it, “If you ever used gloves as part of your laboratory work, you quickly appreciate the value this program brings from a sustainability perspective.”


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