UCSB Labs are Going Green with Innovative Recycling Initiative

UC Santa Barbara’s California NanoSystem Institute is cultivating innovation in its own labs by reducing glove waste.

March 6, 2024
program managers with recycled gloves

UC Santa Barbara’s California NanoSystem Institute is cultivating innovation in their own labs by reducing glove waste. Rachel Schoeppner, Lab Manager of Quantum Structures Facility and Confocal Microscope and Spectroscopy Facility, recently launched a Laboratory Glove Recycling Initiative to limit the number of gloves entering landfills. Since the program’s origin, more than 2,800 pounds of gloves have been collected and distributed to a recycling center.

Managing labs, Rachel Schoeppner observed gloves as the abundant item found in laboratory trash. Having learned about similar programs at other universities, Schoeppner sought to bring a glove recycling initiative to UCSB. In October of 2022, the initiative launched as a pilot program, tracking the number of gloves disposed of in each laboratory. The data revealed a greater volume of gloves, than expected, being sent to the landfill, making this project even more vital. To get this project up and running, Schoeppner applied for funding through The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF).

TGIF is a UC Santa Barbara grant that supports sustainability. The Fund is student-led with financial contributions coming from a student lock-in fee of $3.47 a quarter, and funding decisions administered by a student majority governance board. TGIF funds projects that reduce waste, increase renewable energy, water & energy efficiency, food security, and sustainability in our campus community. Schoeppner found support from her department, with The California NanoSystem Institute (CNSI) matching the TGIF financial award. Schoeppner's ambitious initiative also found project support from Jen Bowser, UCSB’s Sustainable Procurement Program Manager & Small Business Officer as well as the Chancellor’s Subcommittee on Waste and Procurement. With these partnerships, Rachel Schoeppner is continuously working on creating a long lasting program through University involvement, as well as industrial and community support.

The Laboratory Glove Recycling Initiative has since grown with 15 facilities participating in the initiative and more than 2,800 pounds of gloves diverted from the landfill. The initiative operates as a collection and delivery program in collaboration with individual facilities. Each laboratory pays a small fee of about 20 to 50 dollars for their gloves to be collected and shipped to the Polycarbin recycling facility for cryomilling once a quarter. The program has been a success, and Schoeppner is hoping to expand the initiative to new campus facilities and additional scientific labs across campus. In this expansion, Schoeppner plans to grow a volunteer base to assist with collection, partner with Associated Student groups to spread the word about the program and get additional labs participating. The recent partnership with PolyCarbin has allowed the program room to expand and flourish while cutting costs and further reducing carbon emissions by switching to bulk-pickup and shipping to a more local recycling facility.

With the success of the Laboratory Glove Recycling Initiative, Rachel Schoeppner encourages all students or faculty with a vision to look for support from the people around them and to be confident in their ability to make change on campus!

You can learn more about the Laboratory Glove Recycling Program here: https://www.cnsi.ucsb.edu/programs/glove-recycling