A Groundbreaking Solution for Diverting Lab and Cleanroom PPE from Your Waste Stream
By Jennifer Shaffer, Kimberly-Clark Professional Global Scientific Business
In recent years, labs and cleanrooms have gotten pretty good at recycling primary commodities such as cardboard, paper, plastic, and aluminum.
But what about other commonly used products, like single-use apparel, safety glasses, and nitrile gloves? How can these non-traditional items be diverted from the waste stream and given new life?
Kimberly-Clark Professional has a solution: The RightCycle Program.
This groundbreaking service enables customers to collect previously hard-to-recycle items, such as nitrile gloves, safety glasses, and single-use apparel items, and have them turned into new plastic products and consumer goods. The used PPE is shipped to domestic recycling facilities where they’re sorted and processed into plastic pellets and then molded into flowerpots, patio furniture, plastic shelving, and other products.
At a time when consumers expect businesses and institutions to do the right thing when it comes to sustainability, The RightCycle Program provides an innovative waste management solution for items that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
The graphic below shows how the process works from start to finish.
Nearly a Decade of Waste Diversion
Since 2011, The RightCycle Program has helped labs, cleanrooms, universities, manufacturing facilities, zoos, aquariums, and a range of businesses divert more than 1,000 tons of PPE waste from landfills.
Almost one-third of that volume occurred just last year, when customers recycled 312 tons of used PPE. That included 197 Fisher Scientific customers who diverted 133 tons, or 43 percent of the total waste. There also are 40 Thermo Fisher Scientific sites enrolled in the program, stretching from Massachusetts to California. In 2019, those sites diverted 18 tons of used PPE in support of the company’s Zero Waste program.
“Because the environment is one of four customer touch points we have as a safety team, having the ability to offer an all-encompassing solution that diverts used PPE from landfill is critical. Our partnership with Kimberly-Clark is integral to accomplishing this,” said Tony Spearing, Sr. Director of Commercial Operations for Safety and Production at Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Where Gloves Fit In
The average cleanroom worker goes through 3.5 pairs of gloves per day. That amounts to 2,024 gloves per worker, per year — or 22 pounds of gloves per worker, per year. If a worker is double-gloving, the amount is even higher: 44 pounds of gloves per worker, per year. It’s no wonder that gloves make up a large portion of the PPE diverted through The RightCycle Program.
- An audit conducted by the University of Washington found that 22 percent of its research waste consisted of nitrile gloves
- A waste assessment by the University of California Santa Cruz found that nitrile gloves made up a majority of laboratory waste destined for the landfill
Both universities now participate in The RightCycle Program. Others include the School of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Purdue University in Indiana. The University of Edinburgh uses approximately 200,000 nitrile gloves per year and recycles about 85 percent of them via the program.
Purdue University estimates that it uses about 360,000 disposable gloves each year, equivalent to 3.5 tons of landfill waste. The university has reached 89 percent compliance for glove recycling in its labs, even higher than the rate for paper and cardboard recycling. Since it joined the program in 2014, it has diverted over 10 tons of gloves from landfills.
“Once you address cans, bottles, paper and cardboard recycling, you get into smaller niche streams,” said Michael Gulich, director of campus master planning and sustainability at Purdue. “We have some addressed very well, such as electronics waste and landscape debris. Previously, gloves didn’t have a solution.”
Universities aren’t the only organizations that have adopted this innovative recycling solution. Cabot Microelectronics is among the many businesses recycling nitrile gloves through The RightCycle Program. Since 2013, it has diverted more than 14,000 pounds of gloves.
Single-Use Apparel Adds Up
Apparel also makes up a significant amount of lab and cleanroom waste. Estimates show that the average cleanroom worker generates 640 pounds of used PPE waste per year. In a single facility with 100 workers, that can add up to over 29 tons of used apparel items per year being sent to landfills.
Seeing a Bigger Picture
Proper eye protection is critical to minimizing risk of eye injuries. According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, over 700 Canadian workers per day sustain eye injuries on the job, resulting in lost time and temporary or permanent vision loss. They also estimate that 90 percent of these injuries are preventable with the use of proper safety equipment, including eyewear.
In response to customer demand, Kimberly-Clark Professional expanded The RightCycle Program in 2018 to include a recycling option for safety glasses from labs, cleanrooms, and industrial facilities, providing a head-to-toe recycling solution for the most common PPE categories.
Are You Eligible?
The RightCycle Program is open to all companies that use Kimberly-Clark Professional apparel items, safety glasses, or nitrile gloves in non-hazardous applications. Since its inception in 2011, it has enabled labs, cleanrooms, and other businesses to:
- Reach their sustainability goals
- Support zero-waste-to-landfill initiatives
- Reduce waste disposal costs
- Protect the planet for future generations