Hundreds of industries have joined in the struggle to “go green” by lowering their carbon footprint, using recycled materials, or reducing the amount of waste they produce. But can the disposable glove industry dream of joining them? Even though many green strategies can’t be used – the vast majority of nitrile gloves are definitely not recyclable and rarely reusable – glove manufacturers are still making great strides. Here’s how.

Focus 1: The Gloves

Millions of disposable gloves will end up in landfills each year. Initially, there might seem to be no way to temper the environmental damage that this can wreak.

However, it’s important to know that latex gloves, at least, are made from natural rubber, which is a renewable resource that can be extracted from living trees. Other gloves can be partially made from ground-up tires.

Nitrile gloves, on the other hand are more difficult to “green.” Yet even here, innovation has come through; recently, one glove manufacturer engineered a biodegradable disposable nitrile glove that breaks down only when placed in a landfill. Since nitrile has always been viewed as innately non-biodegradable, this is a breakthrough in environmentally sound glove production,.

Focus 2: The Manufacturing Process

Interestingly, the process of manufacturing disposable gloves has seen numerous opportunities for environmentally responsible changes. Some glove manufacturers have modified their existing machinery to ensure that they consume less fuel. Some use electricity supplied from renewable resources, such as solar or wind energy, and some have even begun to use biomass boilers that burn nut shells or other waste products to power their machinery. They can also try to make the most efficient use of the energy produced by recycling any hot air that escapes, reintroducing it to the manufacturing process by using heat exchange units.

In addition, some glove manufacturers opt for minimizing the use of chemicals that are environmentally harmful. They replace these with chemistry systems that have less of an impact on the environment, as well as less toxicity to humans and animals.

Focus 3: The Waste Products

Although disposable gloves themselves are meant to be thrown away, there is also the material used to hold the gloves. Some companies are “going green” when it comes to packaging methods. Glove manufacturers can focus on manufacturing all glove boxes out of recycled materials, as well as keeping them as compact as possible to minimize waste.

Water pollution can also be a byproduct of the production process. Glove manufacturers can clean the wastewater exiting their facilities, ensuring that it returns to the environment even cleaner than it was before.

Focus 4: The Distribution Process

Even the process of distributing disposable gloves can be made more environmentally conscious through shifting production to local facilities rather than shipping the gloves long distances. This reduces transportation-related pollution. Distributors can also make maximize the space in each shipment, which reduces the number of containers used in the shipping process.

While different manufacturing companies are approaching this issue in different ways, the industry as a whole has made great strides in meeting the challenge of becoming more environmentally responsible. Future developments in manufacturing technology will go a long way towards providing other methods for environmentally conscious glove manufacturers to “go green” in a meaningful way.

Written by Rob Brown