It can be said that a university runs on rubber gloves -- hand safety for labs, cleaning, food preparation and examinations. How many does it take?
Millions, easily. For the U of I the number is in the neighborhood of 3.3 million a year.
We know that because the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC) funded a project through the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) to begin recycling of the ubiquitous purple nitrile gloves. Using purchasing records, it was calculated that the university uses 20 metric tons a year, according to Madeline Kull, a senior in civil and environmental engineering who has served as an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency summer intern at ISTC assisting with planning and implementing the program.
University Housing's dining services stepped up to take on the pilot phase of the work which could expand to campus labs and other locations during fall semester.
The response has been good in the kitchens of Ikenberry Commons Dining Hall this summer, said Keith Garrett, dining unit manager. ISTC, which is promoting the program, provided recycling baskets which hook to the sides of trash bins. The baskets and funding to transport the gloves to a recycling facility were provided by the SSC grant.
It has worked at no cost to the dining services operation, according to Michael Olinger, food service administrator. By switching from several types of gloves to one, the overall cost of gloves has even gone down, he added.
Chef Chris Szymanski noted that summer is an excellent time to start new a procedure in his kitchens -- before the intensity of activity that comes with fall semester. "One hundred percent participation is always difficult especially at first," he said. "But you've got a lot of staff that really gets on board with these projects and really care about what they mean. I think heavy participation is definitely going to happen."
In only three weeks the kitchen operation filled up its first 55-gallon drum with gloves.University Housing Dining Services has been particularly active in piloting waste reduction practices including food waste, tin cans, composing and donating leftover food to food banks and shelters, Szymanski continued. The unit's catering operation generates glass bottles which used to be discarded since the university's recycling program does not include glass. Dining services contacted a local recycler who makes pickups every two weeks, totaling 13,000 pounds of glass diverted from the landfill so far, the chef said.
ISTC repurposed used fibre drums and cardboard gaylord shipping boxes to facilitate the transport of the waste gloves on campus. The drums and boxes were generated by area industrial facilities and would have otherwise been sent to a landfill or recycled. This way they get a second life.
While analyzing their own waste stream, researchers at ISTC realized that the purple gloves are a significant portion of what they used to throw away (320 pounds in one year, close to 24,000 gloves). ISTC staff learned of the glove recycling program through Kimberly-Clark and began recycling spent gloves from lab work in 2013.
Now there is a heavy plastic bike rack near the entrance of ISTC which was made from pulverized waste gloves and other recycled plastics.
The progress of glove recycling on campus was greatly enabled by Kimberly-Clark's RightCycle process which unites distributors and manufacturers, optimizing the supply chain for the production of bike racks, lawn furniture, park benches and other high quality products.