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Saving latex gloves from landfills : evaluating sustainable methods of waste disposal such as recycling,… Wang, James 2014-04-02

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   Saving Latex Gloves from Landfills: Evaluating Sustainable Methods of Waste Disposal such as Recycling, Composting, and Upcycling                 James Wang GEOG419 Professor: David Brownstein April 2, 2014          Report prepared at the request of LUSH Cosmetics Ltd. in partial fulfillment of UBC Geography 419: Research in Environmental Geography, for Dr. David Brownstein.  1  Executive Summary  Introduction LUSH is a company that prides itself on sustainable practices, by creating their products with fresh fruits and vegetables and using as little packaging as possible to save unnecessary plastics. Materials are composted and recycled whenever possible at their manufacturing facility in Vancouver. However, latex gloves are becoming an issue as it represents approximately 95% of the wastes that go into the landfill. So the research question is: what factors prevent latex gloves from being recycled or composted?  Data collection was done by conducting interviews with experts on the subject at hand, which is plastic and rubber recycling.   Recommendations The best option right now would be ship waste gloves out to a company that has the expertise of recycling latex gloves. Fine Recycling in Toronto would be open to accepting the waste latex gloves from the Vancouver manufacturing facility so long as the company is willing to pay to ship the product to Toronto. The upside of shipping it to Fine Recycling is that it can help them to further their development and expertise of recycling waste latex which can lead to them potentially offering the service to companies in other industries in the near future.   TerraCycle can recycle both latex and nitrile gloves at their processing facility in the state of Georgia so this option would significantly reduce waste latex gloves from the manufacturing facility should the company choose this route. Again, if the company is willing to accept the additional shipping costs and environmental impacts, then this is definitely a viable option.  Transitioning to local recycling and upcycling can be done in the future if a local company puts in the time, effort, and investment to successfully develop such a process. Collaborating with other companies that are high consumers of latex materials can help to create the demand that would make such a process work.  Conclusion Latex processing is mainly dictated by economics, as it must be affordable for the company processing the latex products while at the same time having enough demand for the end product. Knowledge about the process of latex composting and upcycling needs to be further developed so there are more sustainable methods of disposal for latex products. With people being more conscious about where things comes from and where they end up, they will demand alternative methods of disposal other than the landfill and for these options to be prominent within the greater community.         2  Introduction LUSH is a cosmetics company that prides itself on fresh hand-made products and ensures its products are made mostly of vegan or vegetarian ingredients with no animal by-products. They source their ingredients from small-scale companies that promote the same message of sustainability and will settle for nothing less than the freshest and highest quality of ingredients. They now have 185 shops in North America and they are all supplied by the two manufacturing facilities (called cosmetic kitchens) located in Canada (one in Vancouver and one in Toronto).  From fresh organic ingredients to animal-free by-products, it is clear that sustainability is a high priority for LUSH. Most of their packaging (pots and bottles) is made from 100% recycled material to avoid virgin plastic so they can reduce energy on bottle production and save unnecessary waste from landfills (Goodship, 2007). Throughout their manufacturing process, they aim to be as waste-free as possible because they believe in the concept of sustainability. Some of the products are offered “naked” which means they are sold as is and require no packaging whatsoever.   Two types of gloves are used in the manufacturing facilities: latex and nitrile. Gloves are used to ensure proper sanitation for the customer and protection for the worker. Most workers use latex gloves so I will focus my research on this particular type. Latex and nitrile gloves are considered to be regular garbage waste and LUSH is currently trying to find a solution to save them from the landfill because there are sustainable waste disposal options available. As it stands right now, the majority of the waste at the Vancouver manufacturing facility is in the form of used latex gloves. These latex gloves are consumed at a rate of approximately 600-700 kilograms per month. By finding a sustainable method of disposal for the latex gloves, it will help them get closer to their goal of becoming a zero waste facility. Zero waste, based on LUSH’s definition, means running the manufacturing facility without any wastes going to the landfill, while also attempting to cut the carbon footprint across the board with green energy (Ball et al., 2009).  Sources say latex gloves are compostable because they are made mainly of plant based products but are usually hesitantly received at processing plants for unknown reasons. Various cities in North America offer the recycling and/or composting of latex gloves but Vancouver does not seem to be one of them.  This leads me to my research question: what factors prevent latex gloves from being recycled or composted? Although the purpose of this research is to help LUSH find more  3  sustainable methods of disposals for the latex gloves, it is important to understand the factors that limit the avenues to these alternative methods. Through this research, I hope to collect information from recycling companies to get a better understanding of how latex processing works and the issues that may prevent such a product from being sustainably disposed. Based on the data collected, recommendations will then be made to help LUSH approach their current problem of excessive latex waste going to landfills. Not only will the conclusions from this report help LUSH to find an efficient and sustainable method of disposal for latex, it can also have great implications for industries such as scientific research in laboratories, hospitals, food processing and other manufacturing, as these industries are also high consumers of latex products. By laying down the building blocks and setting the trend, hopefully these other industries will follow suit and realize a little effort and collaboration can go a long way in protecting the earth by reducing unnecessary landfill wastes.  Literature Review Burchette (1989) offers a much generalized view of composting of latex, using latex balloons as the example. The research focuses on how balloons released into the atmosphere biodegrade in different elements such as soils, water, and weather/sunlight. Burchette noted that natural latex balloons degrade at exactly the same manner as the Hevea tree from which it came. There have been differing arguments as to whether or not latex can be composted but as it turns out, 100% latex materials technically degrade at the same rate as organic goods.  Imai et al. (2011), Roy et al. (2006), Jendrossek et al. (1997), and Gallert (2000) all did controlled tests to see if bacteria could break down natural latex rubber found from the Hevea brasiliensis tree. All tests done resulted in the bacteria creating carbon, which is a sign that the latex is indeed degrading with the bacteria being the main cause. While many bacteria are seen as having the ability to break down latex, whether or not the same results can be reproduced on a significantly larger scale, such as composting or recycling, has yet to be seen. Produce  From a production standpoint, Cacioli (1997) offers a very in depth look at the steps taken to make latex gloves. The latex source is from the same Hevea brasiliensis tree mentioned above but additional chemicals and compounds are added before the final product is manufactured. While I thought latex gloves were 100% natural, Cacioli has proven that is not the case. Various compounds such as thiurams, dithoicarbamates, thiazoles and xanthates are added  4  throughout the production process, just to name a few. Different companies will use different compounds, thereby resulting in different compositions for gloves. This can be a big problem when it comes to disposal, as we will delve into later.  Moving onto recycling, the significance of recycling waste rubber is important for three reasons. It is important to note that the majority of the literature is based on waste rubber which can include tires, pipes, shoes, etc. and not necessarily focused on latex products. The first is the protection of the environment. The environmental pollution caused by waste rubber is becoming more and more serious because they do not degrade efficiently when they are tossed into landfills (Fang et al, 2001). This applies for all rubber materials because while rubber is natural, they are part of a class of materials called polymers and polymers cannot return to the ecological environment through natural biological degradation, hydrolyzation or decomposition, like plants or animals because they cannot degrade by themselves (Fang et al., 2001). The second is conservation of energy. The extraction of rubber depends largely on other resources such as petroleum. If rubber can be recycled and reused, then less energy would be expended extracting virgin materials (Fang et al., 2001). Constantly using virgin material can lead to a shortage of raw materials in the future (Thorstensson, 2011). And the last reason why waste rubber is important is because of its use as an industrial raw material. Regenerative and powdered rubbers are significant raw materials of the rubber industry.  One way waste rubber can be processed is to recycle it as fuel by blending it with other burnable discards to make solid fuel. This can be used to generate electricity through burning. One downside of this method is that it does contribute to air pollution. This method can also be used to obtain charcoal black. Another method is to recycle waste rubber into powdered rubber through crushing and proper temperature controls. The resulting material can be incorporated and used in products such as rubber bricks, floor materials, tennis courts, golf course mats, wall materials, and paving materials just to name a few (Fang et al., 2001).  Methods For this research project, a variety of recycling companies were contacted via email and phone to ask for an interview regarding their knowledge and perspectives on waste disposal, with emphasis on latex processing. For emails, a letter of invitation was attached to give the company a little insight into what the research was about. For phone calls, should the company agree to  5  participate in the research, the same letter of invitation would be attached in an email to inform them on what they were participating in. While a lot of the proposals were answered, only a few companies were willing to participate in the research. The goal was to get at least 5 interviews, both from companies that processed latex gloves and those that did not. Through this recruiting process, three companies agreed to participate, with two companies recycling latex gloves and one that did not. The two companies that recycle latex gloves are both situated in Ontario, while the one company that does not recycle latex gloves is situated in Vancouver, not far from the LUSH manufacturing facility.  Each interview was accompanied with a consent form, outlining the details of the project and the interviewee’s role. The consent form includes the research question and outlines the potential risks and benefits associated with the study. Level of confidentiality was also clearly stated and the interviewee had the option to remain anonymous or have their identity revealed.  The option to back out of the research and not have their information used in the final report will also be mentioned prior to the start of the interview.      Although the goal was to conduct face-to-face interviews, for the most part it did not happen due to the schedules of the people I contacted. Two companies were located in central Canada so face-to-face interviews were ruled out. There was an attempt to schedule phone interviews but the time difference and busy schedules meant this method was not employed either. Data was collected by emailing the participating companies the list of interview questions that were prepared and allowing them ample time to respond. This method allowed for accurate data collection as the participant wrote down everything they had to say for each question and allowed for me to clearly read and interpret their words.   The participants are: Wes Baker, who is the director of operation at DeBrand in Vancouver, David Fine, who is the director of operations at Fine Recycling in Toronto, and Anthony Rossi, who is the director of business development at TerraCycle in Toronto.   Findings & Discussion Based on the data collected, it is evident that economics plays a major role and is the biggest deterrent to the sustainable disposal of latex products. From this stream, we can further branch out into different sub-topics that fall under economics, all of which are extremely  6  important when thinking about efficient and sustainable latex disposal. We will discuss knowledge and technology, supply and demand, and finally scale.  When it comes to knowledge and technology, Wes Baker of DeBrand in Vancouver put it this way: “It takes time and energy to implement such a program. We do not recycle latex because we do not have a viable end use for it (yet) and we never want to sell our clients on a system for which we cannot demonstrate transparency from start to finish.” Knowledge surrounding latex processing is not well known and requires further development before it can successfully take off. Wes also mentioned that a lot of research and development and investment are necessary to make this happen. Research and development can be used to further inform ourselves about the recycling process while also make contributions to the feasibility of upcycling. It is essentially a closed loop cycle where a used product acts as the input material used to create new products. By doing this, it saves energy from extracting virgin material while at the same time significantly reduces the amount of waste going into landfills, thus achieving a zero waste facility (Franchetti, 2012). Someone has to be dedicated to collecting more information on how to process latex materials and develop the technology necessary to make it happen. This requires a financial commitment as well as investments in such research and development projects tend to be very costly. “One can easily spend tens of thousands on machinery and trials without any guarantee of success or they could spend $1000 to incinerate everything.” This essentially sums up where latex recycling is at relative to other recycling processes. It is still very young and over time, if significant efforts are put into research and development, it could potentially take off.  David Fine of Fine Recycling in Toronto reiterated this fact. Although they have a system in place to recycle latex gloves, their program is relatively new as it is only a couple years old. They are able to recycle the gloves by “adding them to other low grade plastics. The machine melts down the plastics and injects them into molds. The end product is then sold to industry.” This would seem to go against the concept of recycling posed by Fang et al. (2001) who stated powdered rubber as an end product as a solution to most waste rubber products. There was no mention of how long it took them to develop such a process or how much was invested, but they found something that worked and can profit off of which is very important. However, their machine is unable to take PVC products. This highlights the limitations in technology. Cacioli mentioned that latex gloves are actually made with various compounds and with so many  7  companies making latex gloves, it is possible there are a wide variety of compositions out there. This presents a problem because machines are often made to be composition specific, meaning they can only process gloves made of particular compounds and in some cases can only handle a certain brand. The LUSH manufacturing facility in Toronto had to discontinue their purchase of PVC gloves to fit the needs of Fine Recycling.  The different compositions used to make latex gloves actually present another issue. While Burchette (1998) mentioned that latex balloons can degrade naturally, the results from the interviews would suggest otherwise. Due to the added chemicals and compounds (plastics) as stated by Cacioli (1997), composting becomes a major issue as plastics do not degrade at the same rate as other organics. Further research and development is necessary for the composting process, while at the same time finding a suitable use for the resulting end-product.  Another problem with knowledge and technology is how the gloves are used prior to the recycling process. This was mentioned by all the participants as a barrier to success. With latex gloves being used in so many industries, there are concerns as to what the gloves are being used for. Hospitals and laboratories use gloves to handle potentially hazardous materials such as blood, bacteria, cells etc. The type of residue present on the glove can prevent it from being recycled.  With that in mind, we shall transition to supply and demand. All the participants mentioned that a product with high demand has to be made through the recycling process in order for it to be worthwhile for the company providing the service. David Fine said if a producer of plastic gloves as a by-product could have them recycled easily and affordably, then they would likely be happy to do so. His company mixes the latex gloves with low grade plastics, melts them down and sells the end product to industry. There was no particular mention of what exactly the end product can be used for but if there is demand for it, then it is good for business. Anthony Rossi said TerraCycle recycles latex gloves but did not mention specifically what the end product was.  To put it in a different perspective, Wes Baker offered this: “The state you purchased it in was arguably the most efficient and valuable state for that material. If it were inherently valuable, the manufacturer would want it back as they are the ones who stand to gain the most through remanufacturing and reselling it (they already have the equipment and sales channels). So if it is worthless to the manufacture, it is likely going to be a hard sell to anyone else.” His  8  words are very telling about the current state of latex recycling and processing. He makes some good points in that the manufacturer has the most to gain because they have the expertise and technology to easily process such materials. By processing used materials, they can save money and be more sustainable by reducing the purchase and use of virgin products. Scrap metals, glass, and paper are common recyclables but are usually not processed by the manufacturer. Private companies in any city can handle it just as easily because it is cost effective and the end product carries value and demand. There is very little demand for the by-product of recycled latex rubber as of right now, so the fixed costs of machinery for processing would not make it worthwhile for companies to enter the industry because the products manufactured would have to be sold at significantly higher prices. Industrial manufacturers will not buy from these sources because they have access to drastically cheaper materials.  An issue along the lines of demand and supply is the problem of volume and scale. David Fine said because of small volumes, many companies would see latex gloves as an afterthought when it comes to recycling. Anthony Rossi said TerraCycle has a storage facility in Ontario to collect waste latex products. However, after the threshold is met, they will be sent to their processing facility in the state of Georgia, which is significantly farther away resulting in additional shipping costs and environmental impacts. Clearly, volume is an issue when it comes to latex recycling because what we perceive to be a lot of something actually pales in comparison to the amount that is readily and inexpensively available in the industrial marketplace. We also underestimate how much the processing machines can handle. As of today, Fine Recycling has processed only one box of latex gloves from the Toronto manufacturing facility. TerraCycle only processes latex gloves after they have reached capacity at their holding facility. However much is processed at once, it is definitely more than what the regular person imagines it to be.   Recommendations The best option right now would be to separate the used latex gloves from other wastes and ship them to a company that has the expertise of such a process. Fine Recycling in Toronto is open to accepting the waste latex gloves from the Vancouver facility so long as the company is willing to pay the shipment costs and accept the environmental impacts of shipping. Given that LUSH products are shipped across North America from Vancouver and Toronto, this seems to be very feasible. If necessary, perhaps order gloves that match those that fit the machines at Fine  9  Recycling so it can be effectively processed. The upside to this is it can help Fine Recycling further their development and expertise of recycling waste latex. This can lead to them potentially offering the service to companies in other industries in the near future.  Since the LUSH manufacturing facility also uses nitrile gloves, TerraCycle is also an option as they have the means to recycle both latex and nitrile. The only problem is that their facility is located in the state of Georgia so the gloves will be well-travelled before processing. Again, if LUSH is willing to brave the shipping costs and environmental impacts, then it is definitely a viable option because it would divert both latex and nitrile gloves from the waste stream. This would significantly decrease the amount of waste from the manufacturing facility that goes to the landfill. Evaluating the feasibility of reusable gloves on such a large scale can also be considered.  Shipping the gloves out could just be a short-term solution. There is the option of transitioning to local recycling or upcycling if a local company puts in the time, effort and investment to make it happen. Perhaps LUSH can contribute to the research and development process with other interested proponents. This would mean costs are shared and no single proponent is attacking the problem alone. Reaching out to other industries that are heavy consumers of latex gloves to gauge their interest in collaboration is something that can be considered as well, on top of everything that was just mentioned. By doing this, it introduces other companies to the idea and benefits of sustainable disposal methods while at the same time increasing volumes for processing facilities.  Future Research The issue of producer and consumer responsibility has been a hot topic of debate due to a variety of environmental concerns that have arisen from the inappropriate disposal of certain goods. Extending a producer’s responsibility usually ensures the total environmental impact of a product is reduced because the producer would be responsible for the take-back, recycling and final disposal. According to Gallego et al. (2005), extended producer responsibility (EPR) states “producers should bear a significant degree of responsibility (physical and/or financial) for products due to the potential environmental impacts that could occur.” As a result, “EPR is generally applied to post-consumer wastes which place increasing physical and financial demands on municipal waste management” (Gallego et al., 2005). From this, we can see that  10  many products put strains on the environment as a result of improper disposal, mainly in the form of local landfills. Further research can be done to determine whether or not glove producers should follow the EPR guidelines and be responsible for the disposal, recycle, or upcycle process. In the interviews, one of the questions asked tapped into manufacturer responsibility. This area can be explored in more detail focusing on why manufacturers do not take more responsibility for their products. Possible avenues of research can include the manufacturer itself, along with the government policies that these manufacturers are subject to. The feasibility of shipping a product back overseas should also be considered within this stream of thought.   Another area for future research is to evaluate the priorities of other heavy latex glove consumers. With regards to hospitals, maybe they have their own disposal methods. If not, chances are sustainability is not high on their list of priorities because hospitals have more important things to tend to, mainly to save lives first and foremost. By understanding the priorities of other industries, perhaps it will be easier to evaluate whether or not a collaborative effort is feasible.   Conclusion Companies that are environmentally minded like LUSH are doing the right thing by pushing the envelope to find a sustainable alternative for their waste latex gloves. Fine Recycling started recycling latex gloves for the Toronto manufacturing facility because they were prompted by a request from LUSH. They put the time and effort into developing the process and although it is still a new program that potentially requires more trial and error, at least a basic system is in place for sustainable disposal meaning there are alternatives to landfills for latex gloves.  Current methods of sustainable disposal are limited to recycling, where the latex gloves are melted with other plastics to create a product that can then be sold to industry. Composting and upcycling both require a lot more research and development because neither process is well understood. Companies that currently recycle latex materials are in the best position to develop the upcycling process because they have a general understanding of what technology is used to produce the end product. More trial and error will help them to grasp the concept and develop the necessary technology to make it happen.   11   Latex processing is mainly dictated by economics, as there has to be large enough demand for the end product for any recycling process to be successful. Companies will not invest in technology if there is no practical use for the end product. This was reiterated by Wes Baker as his company does not recycle latex because he has not found a good end use for it. Perceived volume is also an issue as industries manufacture and produce materials at a larger scale than we imagine. What we perceive to be plentiful and valuable in actuality is miniscule compared to what volumes used in industry.  While we are currently restricted to one stream of sustainable disposal for latex gloves, it could expand in the near future given further research and development. With people being more conscious about where things comes from and where they end up, they will demand alternative methods of disposal other than the landfill and for these options to be prominent within the greater community.                   12  Works Cited  Baker, W. (2014, March 4). Email Interview.   Ball, P. D., S. Evans, A. Levers, and D. Ellison. "Zero Carbon Manufacturing Facility – towards Integrating Material, Energy, and Waste Process Flows." Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part B: Journal of Engineering Manufacture 223.9 (2009): 1085-096. Print.  Burchette, D.K. "A Study of the Effect of Balloon Releases on the Environment." National Association of Balloon Artists (1989): n. pag. Print.  Cacioli, P. "Introduction to Latex and the Rubber Industry." Revue Française D'Allergologie Et D'Immunologie Clinique 37.8 (1997): 1173-176. Print.  Fang, Y., Zhan, M., Wang, Y. "The Status of Recycling of Waste Rubber."Materials & Design 22.2 (2001): 123-28. Print.  Fine, D. (2014, March 6). Email Interview.   Franchetti, M. "The Six Sigma Approach to Solid Waste Management and Minimization: Moving towards Zero Landfill Facilities." Journal of Environmental Science and Engineering (2012): 299-311. Print.  Gallego, B., Lenzen, M. "A Consistent Input–output Formulation of Shared Producer and Consumer Responsibility." Economic Systems Research 17.4 (2005): 365-91. Print.  Gallert, Claudia. "Degradation of Latex and of Natural Rubber by Streptomyces Strain La 7."Systematic and Applied Microbiology 23.3 (2000): 433-41. Print.  Goodship, V. "Plastic Recycling." Science Progress 90.4 (2007): 245-68. Print.  Imai, S., K. Ichikawa, Y. Muramatsu, D. Kasai, E. Masai, and M. Fukuda. "Isolation and Characterization of Streptomyces, Actinoplanes, and Methylibium Strains That Are Involved in Degradation of Natural Rubber and Synthetic Poly(cis-1,4-isoprene)."Enzyme and Microbial Technology 49.6-7 (2011): 526-31. Print.  Jendrossek, D., G. Tomasi, and R. M. Kroppenstedt. "Bacterial Degradation of Natural Rubber: A Privilege of Actinomycetes?" FEMS Microbiology Letters (1997): 179-88. Print.  Rossi, A. (2014, March 21). Email Interview.   Roy, R. M., M. Das, and R. Banerjee. "Comparative Studies on Crosslinked and Uncrosslinked Natural Rubber Biodegradation by Pseudomonas Sp." Bioresource Technology 97 (2006): 2485-488. Print.   13  Thorstensson, R. "A New Player in the Accelerating Textile Industry – Upcycled Textile Products." The Swedish School Of Textiles (2011): 1-46. Print.  


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