Biodegradable Gloves vs. Nitrile/Latex Gloves: Which is Better for Lab Sustainability?
Why Labs Should Make the Transition to Biodegradable Gloves
Although most labs use the generic nitrile gloves, in reality the transition to biodegradable gloves would be the most sustainable way to utilize gloves that are unable to be collected by niche glove recycling companies. An example of this would be the Terracycle program which enlists boxes to be filled with gloves, the box is then taken to a location to be recycled. Although this process is effective and works well, it is costly, which can be prohibitive for some labs. On a similar note, the placement of these gloves also causes them to end up in other environments that they are very harmful to, like oceans. Nitrile gloves do prove to be highly efficient in a lab setting as they protect humans from the harmful chemicals that they are using in their experiments; however, biodegradable gloves also have certain abilities that prove to be useful to humans. Nitrile and biodegradable gloves both have their pros and cons. Nitrile gloves have a long shelf life, three times more puncture and chemical resistance than latex gloves, provide minimal cross contamination, and have a lower resistance to friction which are qualities that make them ideal in a lab setting.3 However, recently there has been a new FDA approved biodegradable glove that can be used in the medical field. This means it can almost entirely take the place of a nitrile glove in this field of study. These biodegradable gloves degrade 82% in 386 days where nitrile gloves can take around 100 years to fully degrade.4 All types of biodegradable gloves are not approved for lab and medical use, there is a newly approved brand, but before that, there were very minimal options approved. With the upcoming improvements of biodegradable gloves, there appears to be a clear and more positive impact surrounding the use of biodegradable gloves.
The Cost Point of Biodegradable versus Nitrile Gloves
After looking through a number of retailers of biodegradable and nitrile gloves, ranges of price points for the different types of gloves were able to be determined. From EcoGloves and MDS Associates, the range in cost of biodegradable gloves per case is $143.80 (10 boxes per case, 100 gloves box, 1,000 gloves total) 5 to $180.00 (12 pairs of gloves per pack, 12 packs per case, 144 gloves total)..6 From Thomas Scientific and Fisher Scientific, the range in cost of non-biodegradable nitrile gloves is $78.00 (100 gloves per pack, 10 packs per case, 1000 gloves total)7 to $316.40 (200 gloves per pack, 10 boxes per case, 2,000 gloves total)8.
How One-use Nitrile Gloves Continue to Impact the Environment in a Negative Way
When nitrile gloves are disposed of they sit in a landfill for around 100 years.9 Biodegradable nitrile gloves, although they are made of a similar material, these gloves are developmentally different in the sense that they are biodegradable and only remain in the landfill for 1-5 years. Millions of nitrile gloves are disposed of each year, and those millions of gloves now sit in a landfill year after year and since the pandemic, there has been an influx of people utilizing nitrile gloves. They have been building up in landfills in mass numbers due to the pandemic. The non-biodegradable nitrile gloves spend a significantly larger amount of time sitting in the landfill, when compared to the biodegradable-nitrile gloves.