A UBC student’s project to combat plastic waste has collected roughly 48,700 gloves, diverting 146.1 kilograms of waste from landfills this year.

Melody Salehzadeh, a doctoral student in Dr. Kiran Soma‘s lab, first noticed just how much plastic waste her work created during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to restrictions, custodial staff weren’t able to enter her lab in the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health (DMCBH) as frequently as usual. Single-use nitrile and latex gloves were piling up in the rubbish.

“I knew it was possible to recycle the gloves, it was just a matter of someone putting in the effort,” Salehzadeh says.

Last September, the AMS Sustainability Project and the UBC Student Environment Centre awarded Salehzadeh and her team of seven other students funding to buy two giant pallets for collecting the gloves: one for all brands, currently recycled through Vitacore in Burnaby at roughly $800 per pallet, and one for Kimberly-Clark gloves, shipped to the U.S. for about $250 per pallet.

The team launched a competition in October to encourage other labs to take part in the initiative and see who could collect the most gloves. Seventeen labs took part, with the winning Ciernia lab collecting 19 kilograms of gloves.

“Everyone was really excited and kept saying ‘Finally!’ The DMCBH community really came together and jumped on this opportunity to make a positive impact and reduce lab waste,” says Salehzadeh.

The gloves are recycled into plastic pellets used for building and construction supplies. Some may even see life again as lawn furniture or plastic planters through the Kimberly-Clark program. No biohazardous gloves are collected.

Gloves will continue to be collected until the pallets are full and ready to be shipped, likely in December. The initiative will continue indefinitely thanks to ongoing funding by DMCBH.

“We’re hoping to see this kind of recycling spread not just around UBC, but to other institutions and organizations in BC,” says Salehzadeh.

The full version of this story was originally published on the UBC News website.