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RightCycle Program Helps People with Disabilities Find Work Processing Hard-to-Recycle Items

Through Kimberly-Clark Professional’s RightCycle program, JCDC is providing jobs for approximately 30 people who have survived traumatic brain injuries or have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

Kimberly-Clark Professional, maker of safety and health products through brands like Kleenex, Scott, Kleenguard, and Kimtech, is partnering with a West Virginia nonprofit organization, the Jackson County Developmental Center (JCDC) of Millwood, W.Va., in hopes of making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

Through Kimberly-Clark Professional’s RightCycle program, JCDC is providing jobs for approximately 30 people who have survived traumatic brain injuries or have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities and other conditions.

“RightCycle is an innovative recycling program that helps labs, universities and manufacturing facilities divert waste from landfills by turning previously hard-to-recycle gloves and single-use apparel items into durable consumer goods,” says Jennifer Shaffer, channel marketing manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional.  

"Before 2011, there were few options for recycling single-use apparel and no options for nitrile gloves, and no large-scale options like there were for traditional waste streams like paper, cardboard and glass. So, used nitrile gloves and single-use apparel were disposed of in the trash and sent to landfills. That all changed when we created The RightCycle Program,” she says. 

The number of customers participating in The RightCycle Program has significantly increased from a handful at the start to more than 250 customers in 2017. It is the first large-scale recycling program for non-hazardous lab, cleanroom and industrial waste. Since its inception in 2011, it has diverted more than 450 tons of waste from landfills.

With JCDC, non-traditional employees, from the ages of 18 to 60 with various disabilities, work to sort garments and manually remove the snaps and zippers. They then consolidate the garment material, get it to the recycler and then process it into pellets that are molded into new consumer products and durable goods like shelving units and patio furniture.

“Snaps and zippers are consolidated and recycled as well,” Shaffer says. “We work with JCDC to find outlets for these materials so we can recycle them.”

But there’s more to the story for those non-traditional employees.

“Oftentimes people with disabilities are treated as if they can’t work,” says Sara Rose, development and communications specialist for JCDC. “The RightCycle Program provides them with a job and a very clear task. It’s adaptable for lots of different ability levels—whether it’s removing a snap or zipper or processing the whole garment.”

“We are not everyone’s mission,” she adds. “But we are able to help with recycling.”

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

“As a Kimberly-Clark Professional employee, a major benefit of this program is knowing that I’m contributing to improving the environment,” Shaffer says. “We’ve found a method for recycling products that often end up in landfills. We’ve created a program to divert these previously-hard-to-recycle items from landfills.”

At Kimberly-Clark, our commitment to helping our company and our customers be more sustainable starts with the products we make. That’s why we continually work to reduce the environmental impacts of our products at all stages of their life cycle—from raw materials through ultimate disposal. Our corporate goal is to reach zero waste to landfill. We want to help our customers get there too.”

JCDC Production Manager Mark Crockett tells a story of a current employee of the program who arrived from another agency having been labeled as someone who couldn’t really do anything.

However, through the program, he’s learned to bale, count and weigh the bales. He’s become a hard-working employee who’s been named employee of the year three times.There’s a social aspect as people with and without disabilities work together, lunch together and take breaks together, adds Rose. They learn that everyone has one thing in common. They need to be given an opportunity to work and be part of something.

Kimberly-Clark benefits by knowing their product and the responsible reuse of their product is providing jobs for those with disabilities.

“They are setting an example for other industries by using a non-traditional workforce,” says Rose.

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