The US food industry uses roughly 30 billion disposable gloves per year. Estimates vary but between 45-75 percent of these are vinyl (PVC) disposable gloves. There are many scientific studies analyzing the effects of various health and food safety aspects of vinyl — including the dangers of plasticizers such as phthalates and the emission of dioxin at incineration or landfill, as well as at manufacture.
Apart from the potential toxicity risks, vinyl gloves have also been shown to be an ineffective barrier to bacteria and virus after donning — they are prone to developing micro-tears and holes large enough for bacteria to move through the barrier in minutes.
If we average the estimated usage of vinyl gloves at 50 percent of all gloves used in the US food sector (15 B gloves), this equates to approximately 160 million pounds of vinyl waste every year — the volume being equivalent to over 150 Olympic-size swimming pools.
There are now new formulation, non-vinyl options that are lighter, stronger and not necessarily more expensive (over time), and the differences in terms of environmental impact are massive. These will also have a direct and positive effect on your sustainability goals.
Swap out vinyl gloves for a newer technology light nitrile glove — fully compliant and suitable for food contact use — and reap immediate savings per year:
Waste Savings in Gloves: 50,000,000 lbs per year
Waste Savings in Packaging: 15,000,000 lbs of cardboard per year
This is the equivalent of saving over 5,000 shipping containers from being transported around the world from factories in Asia to the US, saving 65 of those swimming pools full of gloves from going into the landfill, and reducing carbon emissions by 6000 MT.
SDG 12 — the Sustainable Development Goal on Responsible Consumption and Production — aims to “by 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.”
Disposable gloves are a necessary evil in many ways. Until technology allows for other options (some of which we are working on), the thin film barrier of a glove used well is still the best option for food health and safety. Our focus is on the “reduction” strategy, as this is the most easily achievable in the shortest period of time.
The food sector has the opportunity to immediately divert over 65 million pounds of glove and packaging waste, just by swapping products with something better and equally cost-effective in the long run.
Gloves are not a sexy topic — they do not make front-page news and they will not make you famous! But if the food industry is serious about safety, environmental impact and protection of staff, brand and customers, then gloves represent an easy opportunity to quickly make a big difference.