The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is reducing waste in its own operations. It is tackling laboratory gloves used by researchers in its facilities through Kimberly-Clark Professional’s RightCycle Programme – the first large-scale recycling initiative for hard-to-recycle and commonly used items including non-hazardous laboratory gloves.
The programme converts used nitrile gloves, apparel, and safety eyewear into new consumer goods. Since its inception in 2011, it’s helped customers divert more than 660 tons of waste from landfills.
For WHOI, the programme was an easy fit. “Our scientists study microplastics in the ocean, so we want to divert as much plastic as possible,” says Stephanie Madsen, sustainability coordinator for WHOI. “Reducing our impact on the planet and the ocean is important. RightCycle has made it very easy for us to divert gloves from our waste stream.”
WHOI now diverts hundreds of pounds of nitrile glove waste from landfills each year. The impact of the programme has been far reaching, due in large part to Madsen’s personal commitment to spreading the word beyond WHOI.
She created a detailed website for the recycling effort that can be easily adapted for use by other organisations. “I’m happy to pay it forward and assist other people,” Madsen said. “It might take a little more time during the day, but if I’m helping reduce plastics that could end up in landfills or the ocean, it’s worth it.”
Another plus for WHOI is the homegrown nature of the RightCycle Programme. Used gloves are sent to domestic recyclers and transformed into flowerpots, shelving, and lawn and garden furniture by US manufacturers.
And not to be overlooked is the impact of the programme on WHOI’s own employees.
“Our researchers study the ocean and climate change. They want to minimise the amount of waste that they generate,” she said. “They are glad that we offer it.”
WHOI is the world’s leading independent non-profit organisation dedicated to ocean research, exploration, and education. Its researchers teamed up with French scientists in 1985 to discover the Titanic, and the organisation remains at the forefront of providing essential knowledge about oceans and atmosphere that helps guide global environmental stewardship.