UBC Undergraduate Research

Nitrile Glove Recycling Assessment Mikolay, Simonne; Chen, Felice; Gershon, Martina; Khalil, Tala; Riddell, Jackie; Jung, Julie Youjin


The UBC Zero Waste Action Plan has a target of 80% diversion by 2020 and ongoing reductions in the amount of waste sent to the landfill each year thereafter. Currently. Seven million nitrile gloves are discarded annually across campus, amounting to 28 tonnes spread across 26 labs. These millions of nitrile gloves make up 30% of the campus’ lab plastics that are sent to the landfill and 1% of the university’s overall waste. The Kimberly-Clark recycling program provides a potential mitigation pathway. This was the basis for the year-long pilot program at the Centre for Comparative Medicine (CCM), which began in June 2019. This report is intended to analyze the pilot program and provide a recommendation on its campus wide expansion with the functional unit of one year worth of gloves. The Kimberly-Clark recycling program is a viable solution, but only for their brand of gloves. Once a glove is used, it is disposed in a separate container and collected for recycling. The closest recycling plant to UBC Vancouver is located in Edmonton and it is the customer’s responsibility to organize and pay for shipping. Once there, the glove is recycled using a confidential process into products that would have otherwise been made with High Density Polyethylene, such as trash bins, park benches, and lawn furniture. First the financial viability was analyzed. The capital costs are negligible as it is recommended to use existing resources. With data from VWR regarding the different unit prices of gloves that are currently purchased at UBC, it was calculated that the annual price for the functional unit would be between $400 thousand to $1.2 million, for low and moderate quality gloves respectively. The equivalent amount of Kimberly-Clark gloves would cost $525 thousand. The base case landfill costs for the six required trips, including shipping and dumping, is $4,100. The shipping cost for recycling is $19,000, which would be divided into how every many trips are needed. Large collection boxes would also be required for each lab which will cost $860, given that a new box is purchased for each of the three recommended shipments. Ultimately, savings are incurred if the campus currently purchases 18% moderate quality gloves and 82% low quality gloves and replaces them all with Kimberly-Clark Brand. Then the environmental impact was analyzed. The shipping emissions for three trips to Edmonton is 3.8 tonnes of CO2e, as compared to 1.8 tonnes of CO2e emitted by the six trips to the landfill. But this is offset by the carbon credit provided by recycling materials and maintain the circular economy. Recycling the 28 tonnes of gloves (with 95% efficiency) emits 9 tonnes of CO2e. This is then compared to producing the same amount of plastic with virgin materials, which would emit 42 tonnes of CO2e. From these numbers, it is clear that there are extensive environmental savings by using the Kimberly-Clark recycling program instead of sending the gloves to the landfill. Finally, the workflow for CCM was analyzed to provide a recommendation for the expansion. CCM has two sustainability coordinators that are integral in the success of the project. This position should be created at each of the 26 labs. There are small glove collection bins in each of the lab rooms that are merged into a larger bin the hallway on a need-be basis. Then, every two weeks the sustainability coordinators bring all of these gloves to the gaylord box in their garage. This 1m3 box held nearly a year’s worth of gloves. The same workflow is recommended for labs across campus, but ultimately each lab will have to determine if that is possible with their respective safety measures and workforce. Feedback from other instructions who started this program was positive. The program appears to be manageable, and with proper transportation logistics, and enough funding, it is a guaranteed success. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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