Can you recycle latex gloves? 

In this brief discussion we will answer some of the crucial questions related to the topic “Recycling latex gloves”. We will be discussing how these gloves are made and in which sector is its use unavoidable. We will also discuss the recyclability and reuse issues with the use of latex gloves and how its overuse is a cause of concern. 

What material is used to make latex gloves? 

As the name suggests, latex gloves are made from naturally occurring latex of the rubber trees. These are the sap of the tree that is obtained by chiseling the outer bark of the mature rubber tree. Since the sap is liquid in nature, these are treated with ammonia or acid and further processed to remove water to make a rubber-like elastic material. 

However, most people think latex is rubber which is not true. Latex is a naturally produced material by the tree and is biodegradable and their production differs very much from the production of rubber. In fact, latex is used as the raw material to produce rubber. 

Latex gloves have a significant role in both industrial and medical settings. They are used as medical gloves during treating patients and in surgeries. However, these must pass the stringent technical test as categorized by the FDA to be used for such purposes. 

General purpose gloves or industrial grade gloves are used by janitors or sanitation workers for their personal protection. However, if these are also used in food industries, these also will fall under FDA jurisdiction. 

Photo courtesy. iStock. Rubber Tree and Sap

How important are latex gloves? 

With the current pandemic situation, the use of gloves has increased ever more. The two years have seen an exponential rise in the use of all types of gloves. More labs are equipped with virus testing while hospitals are engaged with treating patients. 

In all such cases, personal protective equipment (PPE) is widely used. Gloves and masks make an important and unavoidable PPE. Latex gloves are also playing a key role as its use is significant in medical settings. 

Its use is continuing even after the post pandemic phase due to risk of being exposed to other kinds of infections. This scenario has caused an increase in the rubber solid waste disposal. Latex being completely biodegradable is not a major concern to the environment. 

These disposal gloves are effective in creating the required barrier between the doctor and the patient while treatment. 

Can you recycle latex gloves? 

Latex gloves are not recyclable. Most of the centers do not accept latex gloves for recycling because of its material composition. Some use latex gloves to keep off the germs and since most of them are used in medical settings these may also contain biological samples. 

Any biological waste is not considered as recyclable because of the threat of any contamination or infection. The best way to dispose of non-contaminated latex gloves is to toss them in the regular garbage. Though this will end up in landfill, it’s not a concern as these latex gloves are completely biodegradable and non-toxic to the environment. 

However, an Australian company TerraCycle has come forward with the idea of recycling latex gloves through their Zero Waste Boxes. The waste gloves are collected and sent to the TerraCycle recycling center where these are processed to make new products. 

Photo courtesy. iStock. Male wearing latex glove

Can you reuse latex gloves? 

Latex gloves once used should never be reused as these contain unwanted substances that cause harm to the living beings. Latex gloves used in medical settings are disposed of properly according to the medical regulatory guidelines. These are sometimes discarded in biowastes which are then burned off in a medical incinerator. 

It is a best practice to not use the latex gloves once it was used by another person. These are for single use purposes and should be discarded after use. You don’t have to worry about being dumped in landfill as these are completely biodegradable. 

Are latex gloves polluting our environment? 

With the pandemic striking hard, manufacturing and usage of gloves has increased exponentially. With this people have been given a surplus number of gloves to prevent any shortage in its use. However, in many countries it is seen that these gloves are not properly discarded and are polluting the ocean or water bodies. 

In Spain, scuba divers have collected a huge number of gloves and masks from the ocean. People are posting pictures of discarded gloves and other PPE products along the roadside or stagnant water bodies. This is indeed a type of pollution which we are creating by the mishandling of products that are supposed to protect us. 

With proper discarding and following guidelines, we can avoid the pollution from the use of latex gloves.

Conclusion 

In this short report we have discussed the topic “Recycling latex gloves” and have highlighted some of the important aspects related to its use in different sectors, its recyclability, its reuse, and how irresponsible behavior from humans is causing pollution from the latex glove. 

Frequently asked questions? (FAQs): Recycling latex gloves. 

How do you recycle latex gloves? 

Though latex gloves are usually not sent for recycling, there are few centers that collect latex gloves for recycling purposes. Latex is completely biodegradable and hence they are well off without recycling. However, companies such as TerraCycle recycle the latex gloves and rubber kitchen gloves through their Zero Waste Boxes.

 What can I do with used latex gloves? 

If you have an extra pack of unused latex gloves that has gone bad, you can always recycle it. Latex based products are completely recyclable. However, when latex gloves are contaminated with biological material or chemicals, these need to be treated separately. These used latex gloves cannot go in landfill, nor does it go to compost due to the harmful effect it can cause if kept in open places. 

Can latex gloves be composted? 

Latex gloves are made from naturally available plant sources and hence are easily biodegradable. Thus, any unused latex gloves can be used as compost for your garden. To make it easily compostable, shred it into pieces and mix with other composing materials. 

However, never put a latex glove in the compost if it is contaminated. You will end up causing more harm than any benefits. Gloves contaminated with chemicals or biological wastes should be treated properly according to medical regulations or guidelines from OSHA where it specifically mentions how to dispose of gloves when contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials. 

How do you dispose of disposable gloves? 

With the ever-increasing use of disposable gloves, more and more restrictions are imposed for its proper disposal. There are certain guidelines implemented by OSHA that guide in the proper wearing as well as disposal of gloves. Every glove used in labs and hospitals should be treated as contaminated and should be properly disposed of in the respective bins. 

Gloves contaminated with biological waste and chemical wastes are disposed of separately. Also make sure whenever you remove gloves, the outer part that comes in contact with the chemical should go in and then be disposed of. For latex gloves it does not become a big issue if it ends up in landfill as they are completely biodegradable. 

How long does it take for latex gloves to decompose? 

Latex gloves are made from sap of the runner trees which are collected and processed to make elastic and comfortable gloves. These are hence completely biodegradable which usually takes around five years. This is very less compared to other forms of gloves which take decades to biodegrade, for example, nitrile gloves take almost 200 years to biodegrade. 

Due to this reason some use the non-contaminated latex gloves for composting as well and most do not end up in landfill. However, for contaminated hospital and lab gloves, there are different methods to decompose which still be faster for latex than other synthetic gloves.

What is the difference between latex and nitrile gloves? 

Both latex and nitrile gloves are used widely in many labs and hospitals. However, there is a difference in their properties which makes nitrile gloves preferable than the latex ones. Latex gloves give the necessary comfort and elasticity, whereas nitrile gloves are more resistant to punchers and chemicals. 

In labs and hospitals where staff deal with equipment, surgical tools, chemicals, nitrile gloves give the best protection. Moreover, latex gloves cause allergies in the form of hives, swelling and cause rash to people who are sensitive to it. 

However, when we want to know the eco-friendly aspect of a glove, latex is preferred as these are easily biodegradable whereas nitrile gloves take decades to biodegrade. As both the gloves are not recyclable, nitrile material will end up in landfill and cause problems to our environment. 

What are biodegradable gloves made of? 

Biodegradable gloves are the ones that are degraded easily by the naturally occurring microbes on the earth. Latex also falls in this category as these are plant-based material and are easily decomposed. However, there are many other options for biodegradable gloves such as the one made from corn resin which degrade much faster than latex. 

These types of biodegradable gloves are perfect for food services. PLA based bioplastics are also used to make biodegradable gloves and provide an eco-friendly solution for the wide use of gloves during the pandemic time.

References 

https://www.ventyv.com/blog/the-difference-between-exam-gloves-and-general-purpose-gloves

Korniewicz DM, El-Masri M, Broyles JM, Martin CD, O’connell KP. Performance of latex and nonlatex medical examination gloves during simulated use. Am J Infect Control. 2002 Apr;30(2):133-8. doi: 10.1067/mic.2002.119512. 

Ab Rahman MF, Rusli A, Misman MA, Rashid AA. Biodegradable Gloves for Waste Management Post-COVID-19 Outbreak: A Shelf-Life Prediction. ACS Omega. 2020 Nov 12;5(46):30329-30335. doi: 10.1021/acsomega.0c04964. 

https://www.galleonsupplies.co.uk/blog/the-importance-of-latex-gloves-in-your-medical-facility/

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