According to Bloomberg Business, the number of disposable gloves that are used in medical and life sciences amount to more than 100 billion each year1. But what does a number that large even mean? It has been suggested that if one stacked these gloves on top of each other they would be tall enough to reach to the moon and back 30 times. That’s a mega mountain of trash that’s slated for waste incineration or to be piled up in landfills.
As a life sciences company, Cell Signaling Technology (CST) uses hundreds of thousands of gloves each year to maintain safety and quality control in our labs. In an effort to balance safety and sustainability, we formed a partnership with Kimberly-Clark’s “RightCycle*” program that provides nitrile gloves as well as the means to recycle them.
Rather than being treated as waste, recycled lab gloves are shredded and processed into raw material that is used in a wide array of plastic products ranging from durable lawn and garden furniture, shelving, totes and flying discs. In 2015, CST recycled around 150,000 pairs of gloves, which could provide the material to build almost seven park benches. In addition to cutting costs on trash removal, CST was able to save money based on bulk purchases of disposable gloves from our vendor. Plus it was fun for our employees to see our recycled gloves come back to CST in the form of a flying disc, which was tossed around after a company meeting.
Is this a difficult program to set up?
According to Kimberly-Clark, the program is easy as “sign up, collect, and ship.” While that’s fairly intuitive, there are a few intermediary steps necessary to make the recycling program a success. Prior to setting up collection boxes, it is necessary to educate employees about the new glove recycling protocol. Naturally, the program is regulated to meet Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) standards. Participants are only recycling gloves that are used in a non-hazardous manner. All gloves used in tissue culture rooms, or any items that come in contact with hazardous chemicals or biological materials continue to be disposed in appropriate receptacles.
Researchers at CST use between 3-10 pairs of gloves per day while working with benign substances such as simple alcohols that have been cleared for recycling. From our experience, the volume of gloves adds up quickly, so it’s best to have staff pack down the gloves with the bottom of an empty rubbish bin to ensure that boxes reach proper capacity. As we prepared for our first shipment of recycled gloves, the target weight per box was around 90 lbs. Be sure to have support from your facilities and shipping departments to ensure this program runs smoothly. You’ll need help to transport full boxes with dollies and it’s important to allocate a place to store the boxes of full gloves, as they fill up fast! The customer is responsible for shipping the gloves back to the recycling center, but this proved to be less expensive than anticipated. Our first pallet of 12 boxes of gloves weighed around 1,100 lbs and freight shipping was around $250.
From employee outreach to shipping out a pallet of gloves, the RightCycle* program was an economical and ecological solution for our labs at CST. We are glad to have made an impact on our waste profile, and glad to see that our laboratory gloves are re-purposed for safe, practical products. Ultimately the recycling program was a win-win for all parties involved, and we encourage you to take the steps to recycle gloves in your labs. Small programs like this can help shape a culture of sustainability in your lab and yield positive impacts on the planet.
Do you have any questions about getting glove recycling started? Leave a comment below and be sure to check out the official RightCycle* webpage.