A Deep Dive Into Biodegradable Nitrile Gloves
Are you looking for a biodegradable nitrile glove that can help you maintain sustainability, save the environment, and be eco-friendly?
Gloves are tremendously growing, not only in size on the global market but also in importance and demand.
People now recognize the importance of disposable nitrile gloves more than ever.
But also acknowledge their negative effect on the environment.
To reduce this effect, both people and glove manufacturers understand the growing demand for healthier and better choices for their gloves.
Biodegradable nitrile gloves are now the new trend in the glove market, and in truth, thank God, we need them!
But there is information about them and how they are different from or similar to usual nitrile gloves.
Going through the internet to shop for eco-friendly nitrile gloves can be difficult sometimes because how could you know that these gloves are what they claim to be?
The debate on the biodegradability of nitrile gloves has been going on for quite some time now.
With all the claims, tests, and certifications, getting a firm grip on this topic can be challenging.
Here in the MedRx family, we are as passionate about the environment as we are about delivering the best quality to our clients.
So, we surfed the internet to give you the best and most compressive guide on biodegradable nitrile gloves.
In honor of saving sea turtles around the world and the climate change conference COP27 that took place in Egypt last month, we decided to participate by giving you this article.
Let us take you on a journey through our discoveries
In this article, we will go through the following:
- What are nitrile gloves?
- The biodegradability of regular nitrile gloves
- Environmental impacts of using disposable nitrile gloves
- Why do we need biodegradable nitrile gloves?
- What are biodegradable nitrile gloves?
- Certification and testing methods of biodegradable nitrile gloves
- The qualities of biodegradable nitrile gloves
Let’s begin the journey of saving our oceans by answering our basic first question.
What are nitrile gloves?
Regular nitrile gloves, known as NBR, are a type of synthetic rubber glove.
They’re made of acrylonitrile and butadiene copolymers.
Nitrile gloves are highly flexible, offering magnificent dexterity and touch sensitivity.
Additionally, they have excellent resistance to chemicals and solvents.
Further, they are great when handling engine oils, acids, alkalis, aliphatic hydrocarbons, fuels, and gasoline, with the most excellent resistance to petroleum-based hydraulic fluids.
Moreover, they protect against microorganisms and bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, urine, etc.
Furthermore, they are durable with a great tear, abrasion, and puncture resistance.
Nitrile gloves are more impressive because they are void of latex protein.
Therefore, they are a desirable option for those suffering from latex allergies.
For all these reasons, Nitrile gloves are now the standard disposable gloves among various industries.
They are used as high-quality medical examination gloves, cooking and food gloves, automotive and mechanics gloves, car washing gloves, and many other applications.
What about the environmental impact? Are nitrile gloves environmentally friendly? Are they biodegradable? Can they harm marine life? Can they be recycled?
Let’s find the answers to these questions.
The biodegradability of nitrile gloves
The most common question regarding nitrile gloves is, “Are nitrile gloves biodegradable?”
To answer this question, we need to understand what is meant by “biodegradation.”
So, what’s biodegradation?
Biodegradation refers to gloves’ natural decomposition and breakdown by microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi.
The gloves break down into simple materials that return to the environment in the form of carbon dioxide, ammonia, and water.
This process is how nature manages the world’s waste.
It’s a different process than both compostability and recycling.
Unlike natural biodegradation, both compostability and recycling are human-derived processes.
The gloves break down into non-toxic natural elements under certain circumstances created by humans. (Composting)
The gloves transform into different new products that can be reused, leading to less environmental waste. (Recycling)
The point is that biodegradation occurs only with carbon-based materials.
In other words, natural-based materials.
Since nitrile gloves are made of synthetic rubber materials, they’re not biodegradable.
Although some people would debate that it is!
They are far more biodegradable than vinyl gloves and eventually break down into pieces.
Nevertheless, the degradation of nitrile gloves depends on several factors, including temperature, humidity, and the presence of organic matter.
Without the presence of these factors, the degradation could take centuries!
Nitrile gloves could take up to +200 years to fully break down.
Because they’re made of synthetic materials, which cannot attract microorganisms.
The truth is microorganisms aren’t really into synthetic materials.
They usually don’t have the genes to create substances that degrade human-made chemicals.
You can quickly dispose of nitrile gloves, but unfortunately, nature can’t.
You use the gloves, then throw them away; it’s as easy as that.
Meanwhile, nature takes a very long time to dispose of nitrile gloves, as they are not biodegradable and take hundreds of years to decompose fully.
Now that we’ve established this, what are the consequences of it? How does this impact our ecosystem?
Let’s find out.
Environmental impacts of using disposable nitrile gloves
There’s no denying that disposable gloves protect us against different hazards.
Whether they protect us against infectious diseases, physical injuries, or chemical burns.
However, the amount we use is growing, and with this growth, there’s a proportional growth in the waste.
If we used to dispose of vast amounts of gloves yearly, things are even worse.
With the pandemic, the demand for disposable gloves has skyrocketed.
Nitrile gloves are usually used only by professionals in different fields, including the medical sector.
COVID-19 has been freaking out everyone else for the past two years, and the use and disposal of nitrile gloves are now on everyone’s shoulders.
They’re no longer just used by professionals; the public also uses them extensively.
In 2020, the use of gloves was estimated at 65 billion globally. (1)
Can you imagine how many of them ended up in landfills, threatening marine life and contributing to the buildup of gas emissions?
The disposable gloves, including nitrile ones, are not biodegradable
They pose a risk to our dear planet, killing marine life and increasing the temperature, also known as global warming, eventually leading to our central problem of climate change.
Which leads us to our next question: how much do nitrile gloves contribute to this climate change? And why do we need biodegradable nitrile gloves?
Why do we need biodegradable nitrile gloves?
To answer this question, we have to see the life cycle of nitrile gloves, from their raw materials until the moment they are disposed of, to see how they affect the environment.
The raw materials
As we mentioned above, nitrile gloves are made of acrylonitrile and butadiene.
Acetonitrile is released into the air and water by the chemical plants that use it.
When large amounts of it are released into water, it takes longer to degrade, and the higher the water concentration, the more toxic to animal life it is.
Butadiene is also toxic if released into the water in large amounts; it can also form ground-level ozone.
According to a study done in 2021, at the raw materials stage, the nitrile gloves contributed more to the environmental impacts than the NR latex. (2)
The production phase
The fossil fuel used in heating and producing these materials emit carbon dioxide.
In addition to the byproducts of the manufacturing that are represented in the accelerators, carbon black, sulfur, zinc oxide, and aromatic extract
All these affect the ecosystem, especially sulfur and zinc oxide, which are harmful to marine life.
The packaging and transportation phase
Moving the raw materials or the finished nitrile gloves to various locations is also environmentally damaging because of the carbon dioxide release.
The disposal phase
If the disposable nitrile gloves are contaminated, they will be disposed of as toxic materials.
Furthermore, when incinerated, they release carbon dioxide and nitrogen-based products.
Even though these products may not be in large enough quantities to affect the environment, if the gloves are incinerated in a poorly functioning incinerator, this leads to the release of hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide, which are extremely dangerous to the environment.
Furthermore, if the gloves are discarded in a landfill, they will degrade over time, leaking chemicals and residual chemicals.
Not to mention that they could end up in the ocean, killing our marine life, or be eaten by animals, also killing our wildlife.
Either way, the disposal of nitrile gloves will eventually adversely affect the environment.
But this can also lead us to another question: how about recycling them? Are nitrile gloves recyclable?
The answer to this question depends on whether the nitrile gloves are contaminated.
They cannot be recycled if they are contaminated with harmful chemicals or bodily fluids.
However, if they are not contaminated, they can be recycled.
Recycling nitrile gloves reduces the amount ending up in landfills, thereby protecting the environment.
Notwithstanding, the number of places where nitrile gloves can be recycled is limited, and it can never keep up with the gigantic amount of waste generated by disposable gloves.
Carbon emissions accumulate in the atmosphere during the lifecycle of nitrile gloves.
And even though nitrile gloves have the least environmental impact among other disposable gloves, the impact cannot be neglected. (3)
We seek a better, healthier ecosystem, and everyone is now going greener to save our planet from the threats of climate change and the destruction of marine life.
And as the number of recycling facilities is very small, we find ourselves seeking better and more practical solutions.
So, we need more environmentally friendly nitrile gloves if we don’t want to kill more turtles, sea mammals, and birds.
That’s why biodegradable gloves are the answer to our concerns.
Let’s find out more about them.
What are biodegradable nitrile gloves?
Lucky for us, the first biodegradable nitrile gloves were approved in 2012.
These gloves are made with new technology that makes them break down or biodegrade in a concise time compared to regular gloves.
So, what is this technology?
It’s a sustainable technology invented by the same company that first introduced regular nitrile gloves.
It’s called Eco Best Technology and is abbreviated as EBT.
How does this work?
It works by embedding the EBT material within the gloves.
When the gloves are thrown into landfills, the microorganisms are attracted to the EBT.
Consequently, upon consuming them, the microorganisms excrete certain enzymes to depolymerize (break down) the nitrile.
Thus, the nitrile gloves break them into three natural materials: organic soil, carbon dioxide, and methane.
These materials are not harmful to the environment.
On the contrary, they can be used as fertilizers.
This makes the gloves degrade by 20% within 6 months and by more than 80% in a year.
Moreover, they degrade by 92.6% in only 2.5 years, and the rest, 7.4%, breaks down naturally to become organic, non-toxic materials.
After 5 years, they’re fully and completely biodegradable, returning to mother nature and causing no harm to our dear planet.
This means it degrades 100 times faster than regular nitrile.
What’s more impressive about these gloves is that they don’t produce harmful microplastics or gases when they biodegrade.
They don’t produce harmful emissions when they are made or packaged, either.
The packaging is made from 100% recyclable paper!
They’re environmentally friendly from the beginning until the very end.
Moreover, methane production is captured in landfills and converted into a clean, renewable energy source.
So, they’re not only biodegradable but also sustainable.
Biodegradable nitrile gloves are a magical solution for our environment. They’re made to solve the world’s waste problem and reduce the negative environmental impact of regular nitrile gloves.
They’re environmentally friendly on every level.
Starting with the materials, they are created with and when they are produced, used, and disposed of.
They produce less carbon dioxide when manufactured.
Additionally, they break down more rapidly into natural materials such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and organic materials that can be sustainably used as fertilizers and renewable energy sources.
So, how can you ensure they’re biodegradable, and what methods were used to test this technology?
Let’s go through some of the testing methods for biodegradable nitrile gloves.
Certification and testing methods of biodegradable nitrile gloves
We’ve established the significance of biodegradable nitrile gloves.
The good news is that everyone now recognizes the importance of seeking environmentally friendly alternatives for everything they use.
And disposable glove manufacturers are no exception; after all, they are the industry’s mainstays.
They now do everything in their power to offer their customers the best biodegradable nitrile gloves, sharing responsibility and taking part in reducing the environmental impact of disposable gloves.
A glove must undergo a few quality tests to prove it is biodegradable.
The biodegradability performance of nitrile gloves is tested and determined using two international test methods.
- ASTM D5511
- ASTM D5526
These tests were created by the American Society of Testing and Measurements (ASTM) to determine whether nitrile gloves or any gloves are biodegradable.
let’s see how these test work
This test is a method for determining the anaerobic degradation of plastic materials under high-solids anaerobic-designation conditions.
In other words, this test is done under ideal landfill conditions.
To illustrate, the total solid composition of these conditions is more than 30%.
Moreover, the conditions are fixed, not mixed, and designed in the laboratory.
It’s a short-term test that lasts only for 30 days, in which nitrile gloves are exposed to many processes where microorganisms break down the biodegradable material in an anaerobic condition (meaning without oxygen).
When done, the percentage of carbon that can be transformed into gaseous carbon dioxide and methane is measured.
And depending on this percentage, they can decide the percentage of biodegradation of the gloves.
However, it’s forbidden by the ASTM to extrapolate the final biodegradation percentage and timeline from this test, as this may give a false sense of security.
In addition, the biodegradability claims of nitrile gloves tested by this method are limited to the numerical results of the test.
This test method is equivalent to ISO 15985, used in the European Union.
Since the ASTM D5511 is done in perfect condition and is short-term, there has to be a test that could be more accurate, thorough, and longer.
That’s where ASTM D5526 comes in.
ASTM recommends that if the ASTM D5526 results are found, there’s no need for ASTM D5511.
It’s used to determine the anaerobic biodegradation of plastic materials under accelerated landfill conditions.
The test takes more time, as it’s done over 3-6 months.
The nitrile gloves are placed in three oxygen-free simulated landfill environments in this test.
They are added with various solid wastes (35%, 40%, and 60%) at different heat conditions, high pressure, light, and moisture.
After that, they measure the amount of carbon dioxide produced over a certain period.
The percentage difference between the solid left and the original materials measures the biodegradability of the gloves.
Since this test is more similar to real-world landfills, it’s more reliable to prove the biodegradability of nitrile gloves.
In addition to these tests, biodegradable gloves can undergo additional testing.
This test determines the material’s ability to biodegrade and confirms whether it is toxic to planet life.
In this test, samples of nitrite-containing biodegradable gloves are added to various plants, which are then monitored.
If the material tested didn’t affect the planet’s growth and development, the material is considered safe, and vice versa.
Biodegradable nitrile gloves should leave no toxic residue after degradation.
This test is done to label the gloves as compostable.
It is a four-part biodegradation test for evaluating biodegradability through composting.
The ASTM D6400 test method is somewhat selective for bacterial-based biodegradation over an extended period.
It lasts a minimum of 90 days and can last up to 180 days.
This is another biodegradation test that measures the aerobic (in the presence of oxygen) biodegradation of plastic materials under controlled composting conditions. It takes a minimum of 90 days.
BMP stands for “Bio Methane Potential.”
It’s a series of biological tests to measure the methane/biogas production of materials by anaerobic bacteria.
It gives information about the potential of materials to biodegrade.
However, these tests aren’t standardized yet, and the results can be different according to the model used and other labs.
C2C stands for “cradle-to-cradle,” which is the global standard for safe, circular, and responsibly made products.
Many manufacturers of biodegradable nitrile gloves seek this certification to emphasize their eco-friendly products.
This certificate evaluates the gloves’ safety by ensuring that the gloves’ material is safe for both humans and the environment.
Furthermore, it ensures that the gloves reduce harmful emissions, generate renewable energy, and protect clean air, water, and soil.
To sum it up,
There are multiple certifications that manufacturers can seek to validate the claims of their biodegradable nitrile gloves.
However, the two main test methods used for assessing the biodegradability of nitrile gloves are ASTM D5511 and ASTM D5526.
Most biodegradable nitrile gloves prefer ASTM D5526 because it is longer and closer to real-life landfills, making it more reliable.
You must now be thinking; this is all great for the environment and the world, but what about the main purpose that the gloves are made for—protecting us?
Can this technology affect the protection of the gloves or make them less reliable?
Let’s find out.
The qualities of biodegradable nitrile gloves
In addition to being 100% biodegradable within 5 years and causing almost no harm to the environment, biodegradable nitrile gloves are just as protective and effective as regular ones.
To explain more, the technology doesn’t compromise nitrile gloves’ protection, performance, or properties.
They offer a perfect second-skin fit for comfort, dexterity, and touch sensitivity.
Additionally, they have no natural rubber latex proteins and can be used safely without fear of latex allergies.
Moreover, they are accelerator-, powder-, and silicon-free; thus, they are hypoallergenic.
Although many users prefer the green color to indicate “going greener” and being eco-friendly, the biodegradable nitrile glove is available in different colors.
Moreover, they come in various sizes.
They’re also ambidextrous in design, so you can wear them on either hand.
Biodegradable nitrile gloves are affordable, so there’s no need to worry about spending a fortune to simultaneously protect your hands and the planet.
One more thing you may worry about is how much this biodegradable EBT can affect the shelf life of the gloves.
Well, no worries because the EBT is only activated when it’s thrown in the landfill and exposed to anaerobic conditions.
It has the same shelf life as regular nitrile gloves as long as they are stored under normal conditions.
What about their applications?
Biodegradable nitrile gloves are used in janitorial and cleaning tasks, the pharmaceutical industry, and automotive and agricultural applications.
In addition to saving the environment, you can use biodegradable nitrile gloves to keep your hands clean and dry during different food handling, making, and preparation tasks.
And you needn’t worry about materials leaching into your food like vinyl gloves or contaminating your food with the latex protein in latex gloves.
Biodegradable nitrile gloves are food-safe.
Furthermore, they are strong enough to handle tearing or cuts from knives.
What’s more interesting, in April 2022, the first biodegradable nitrile gloves were approved for medical use by the FDA . (4)
so now literally everyone in all professions can use biodegradable nitrile gloves.
The bottom line:
Biodegradable nitrile gloves are the best solution you can rely on when it comes to saving the environment.
You can use them just like regular nitrile gloves without compromising safety or comfort.
When you shop for your next pair of biodegradable nitrile gloves, ensure they are certified and tested according to international standards.
By the end of our article, we send the sea creatures our regards, wishing them to live in less polluted oceans and safer habitats.
And we hope we participated, even if by a small amount, to encourage more people to use more friendly biodegradable nitrile gloves.
And we hope you have a better overview of the topic.
If you still have any questions, we are here to answer them, so don’t hesitate to send them to us.