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Recycling Options for Single-Use Gloves

July 21, 2020

With COVID-19 upon us, single-use gloves are in use more than ever.  The headlines that quickly followed the virus outbreak in the US have often focused on used gloves strewn on the ground, in parks, and in parking lots.  For those working in materials management, this did not come as a surprise, but instead piqued our interest to find a way to manage the discarded gloves.   

Two companies that are facilitating the collection and recycling of disposal/single-use gloves are TerraCycle® and Kimberly-Clark Professional.  Both companies implement a discarded glove collection program and forward the materials to processors for making into a feedstock for manufacturers.  The manufacturers are using the recycled-content feedstock for making new products.

TerraCycle’s Disposable Gloves Zero Waste Box Program began in 2014 when TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box division was launched.  “Since then it's quickly become one of the highest volume waste streams we divert from landfills—80 tons of used gloves collected.” reports Sophia Berrios, Global Marketing & E-Commerce Manager, Zero Waste at TerraCycle®. TerraCycle’s Glove Program provides the opportunity to recycle any brand of disposable vinyl, nitrile, and latex gloves.  Industries using their Glove Program include: manufacturing facilities, salons, museums, and food services.

Interested parties can begin using TerraCycle’s Glove Program by purchasing one of their different sized collection/shipping Zero Waste Boxes.  The boxes are clearly marked for disposable gloves collection and, with quick assembly, are ready to use.  The boxes include a prepaid shipping label for returning the full boxes back to TerraCycle®.  Once the recycled gloves are received, TerraCycle® works directly with US-based processors to separate the gloves by resin type (manual or automated separation) and process them into a fine powder for manufacturers to use as a feedstock for new products.   The elasticity of the gloves makes them perfect for making rubber based items like tiles and mats for gym flooring. 

Kimberly-Clark Professional (KC) launched The RightCycle Program in 2011 to address the need for sustainably managing their customers’ used personal protective equipment (PPE).  The Program includes the recycling of KC’s thin mil nitrile gloves, apparel (including accessories such as hoods, masks, shoe covers and other items), safety eyewear, and 100% polypropylene wipers.  Since 2001, more than 1,000 tons of used PPE have been collected through the Program, and in 2019 alone, 312 tons of materials were collected with 50% of that being gloves.

To participate in KC’s Program, customers just need to call their local sales representative or authorized dealer.  Customers can use their own recycling bins or boxes to collect the PPE on site.  KC accepts pallet shipments to maximize their customers’ shipping budgets and pays for all processing of the collected materials.  The materials are pelletized by US processors and then sent to US manufacturers for making into new plastic products such as flower pots and plastic shelving.

“As a global company and a leader in sustainability, Kimberly-Clark believes that our responsibilities as a manufacturer don’t end when the customer buys our products. Providing a solution for hard-to-recycle items not only helps customers get one step closer to achieving their zero waste goals, it is also an important aspect of our Extended Producer Responsibility. We are thrilled to play a part in helping our customers achieve their sustainability goals and in protecting our planet.” states Jennifer S. Shaffer, Channel Marketing Manager, Scientific, Kimberly Clark. 

By Mary Ann Remolador, NERC Assistant Director

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