Allen Utterback, Assistant Director of Facilities for the College of Science, was at a supplier conference in 2015 when something in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He turned to see a sign for a nitrile glove recycling program – RightCycle by Kimberly-Clark Professional*. With the labs of Jordan Hall of Science fully stocked with these essentials, he stopped to ask for more information. A year and a half later, Utterback’s curiosity has diverted over 1,298 pounds of nitrile gloves from the landfill…but there’s still so much work to be done.
"The program just made sense,” Utterback recalls. Passionate about recycling and conserving resources, he saw a way to implement a relatively easy solution and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. “The University has encouraged us to embrace Pope Francis’ encyclical, making better use of the materials around us, and this seemed like the perfect chance. The worst thing you can do is not at least try to make a change.”
RightCycle program is fairly straightforward. If gloves can be tossed in the normal trash, they can be recycled into pellets for injection molding. If they are heavily soiled, they should still be thrown in separate bins for contaminated and hazardous materials. Lab safety is important – human safety is important – the program in no way discourages glove usage. This program simply asks students and staff to drop their gloves into a RightCycle container instead of the trash.
Utterback has largely run the program by himself, only asking faculty members to remind their students about RightCycle from time to time. To get the program started, Utterback placed smaller collection bins around the labs at Jordan. When filled, he collects them and transfers them to the larger RightCycle containers. At the end of the semester, he puts the containers on pallets, wraps them, and sends them back to Kimberly-Clark Professional*.
As a reminder, this program is only taking place in the labs of Jordan Hall of Science. Aside from these gloves, over four tons of additional nitrile gloves are used on campus each year. That’s a lot of gloves – a lot of gloves going into landfills when a sustainable solution exists. All that’s necessary is a simple behavioral change. Utterback is hopeful that glove recycling will expand beyond Jordan in the next few years, though he admits with a laugh, “At four tons, I may need a bit more help.”