UW Sustainability and UW Recycling propose a pilot program from April 2016 to June 2016 (Spring Quarter) that would recycle used, non-hazardous nitrile lab gloves that are currently being sent to the landfill. The gloves would be collected by campus labs from the Molecular Engineering and the Materials Science & Engineering departments and then shipped back to their producer, Kimberly-Clark, where they would be recycled into products like park benches and chairs.
Labs account for over 20% of all space on campus. Used nitrile lab gloves are a significant source of waste produced in University labs across all departments. Recently, a waste audit conducted from 20 DEOHS labs determined that used nitrile gloves account for 20% of the volume and 22% of the weight of waste generated from the labs. That represents the second and third largest source of lab waste, respectively. Only compostable materials (primarily paper towels) were a larger source of waste by both measures.
In response to the waste audit, UW Recycling piloted a lab-specific paper towel composting program with much success, leaving gloves as one of the largest sources of non-hazardous lab waste on campus, if not the largest.
Recently, Kimberly-Clark developed technology that breaks down nitrile gloves into pellets that can be recycled into plastic products, like waste and recycling containers, park benches, and chairs. This pilot program would have a significant environmental impact by diverting gloves from the landfill and reusing them to make new products.
Student Leadership & Involvement
UW Sustainability’s Green Labs Intern will coordinate with UW Recycling, UW Sustainability, and participating labs to develop and implement the pilot. Our recycling processing partner will be Kimberly Clark. The student will also assist in developing educational and outreach components of the program, collecting and analyzing data regarding rate of glove collection and program cost, and organizing the before and after waste audits.
Education, Outreach, & Behavior Change
Outreach and education will target labs in the participating departments and will highlight the environmental benefits of recycling gloves. The program will educate, encourage, and promote the ease and benefits of diverting non-hazardous gloves from the landfill bin to a recycling bin. In addition, the program would educate lab users on which types of gloves are accepted for recycling (Kimberly-Clark brand only, nitrile, and non-hazardous)
Feasibility, Accountability, & Sustainability
Key internal and external stakeholders are aligned and ready to implement the lab glove recycling pilot. UW Sustainability has already reached out to labs in the Molecular Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering Departments. Lab Managers and building coordinators in both departments are excited and have agreed to participate. Kimberly-Clark’s RightCycle program has been going on for over 5 years. They have agreed to provide support in the form of best practices and are willing to connect us to other universities that have successfully implemented similar programs. In addition, UW Recycling has experience in a similar collection program for Styrofoam and has the operational expertise to ensure the program is a success.
Estimated Project Budget
We are requesting a budget of $2000, which will cover costs for shipping, signs, education, and trash sorting materials. The estimated cost to ship a pallet to Kimberly-Clark is between $400 and $600 each. We expect to ship two pallets over the course of the pilot.