Glove Waste Recycled through Kimberly-Clark Program

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution sought to reduce waste in its own operations, an obvious target was the high volume of laboratory gloves used by researchers in its facilities.

Kimberly-Clark Professional’s, Roswell, Ga., RightCycle Program is the first large-scale recycling initiative for hard-to-recycle and commonly used items including non-hazardous laboratory gloves. The program converts used nitrile gloves, apparel and safety eyewear into new consumer goods. Since its inception in 2011, it’s helped customers divert more than 660 tons of waste from landfills.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI; Falmouth, Mass.) is a non-profit organization dedicated to ocean research, exploration and education. Some of his work includes when its researchers teamed up with French scientists in 1985 to discover the Titanic. WHOI sought to reduce waste in its own operations, an obvious target was the high volume of laboratory gloves used by researchers in its facilities.

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For WHOI, the program was an easy fit. “Our scientists study microplastics in the ocean, so we want to divert as much plastic as possible,” says Stephanie Madsen, sustainability coordinator for WHOI. “Reducing our impact on the planet and the ocean is important. RightCycle has made it very easy for us to divert gloves from our waste stream.”

WHOI now diverts hundreds of pounds of nitrile glove waste from landfills each year. The impact of the program has been far reaching, due in large part to Madsen’s personal commitment to spreading the word beyond WHOI. She created a detailed website for the recycling effort that can be easily adapted for use by other organizations. “I'm happy to pay it forward and assist other people,” Madsen says. “It might take a little more time during the day, but if I’m helping reduce plastics that could end up in landfills or the ocean, it's worth it."

Used gloves are sent to domestic recyclers and transformed into flowerpots, shelving, and lawn and garden furniture by U.S. manufacturers.

“Our researchers study the ocean and climate change. They want to minimize the amount of waste that they generate,” she said. “They are glad that we offer it.”