The Covid- 19 outbreak raised many challenges and global panic in humankind. Apart from varied effects on health, technology and economy, pandemic has its own concomitant consequences on environment. When humankind is dealing with mental clutter left behind by the pandemic, environmental clutter full of disposable masks, gloves, empty medicine strips and Covid testing kits becomes secondary. But it’s time that concern for sustainability is kept primary alongside other disruptions of pandemic.
The disposable gloves industry witnessed a significant growth during pandemic with the demand for personal protective products increasing. Gloves became inevitable for ensuring contact-less interactions; however, the end-of-life product waste originating from these products are a significant ESG challenge. Mass production of disposable gloves have multiple long-term threats to different components of environment- biodiversity, climate, life under water, and life on land. In line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the industry directly affects SDGs- 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life below Water), and 15 (Life on Land).
Products in the market are made mostly of synthetic rubber polymer Liquid Nitrile which is also known as Buna-N or NBR. It a copolymer made by combining acrylonitrile and butadiene molecules. This polymer is highly resistant to puncture, dissolution, oil, fuel, and other chemicals.
Acrylonitrile is a type of cyanide which is harmful to eyes, skin, lungs, and nervous system and may even cause cancer. Hence, producers are at the responsibility to use a safe composition of acrylonitrile with butadiene molecules.
Apart from negative impacts on health, Nitrile Gloves have multiple threats when looked from the lens of the environment. It goes beyond the issues related to disposal. Gloves manufacturing is an energy intensive process and greenhouse gas emissions during the production add to the adversities. End-of-Life waste of this product is undeniably high due to single-use pattern. Pandemic has highlighted the use of disposable gloves and the ill effects. Therefore, it has now become easier to pinpoint on other industries which are intensively dependent on gloves. It is estimated that US uses 300 billion disposable gloves each year across various industries.
Waste generation, irresponsible disposal, energy intensive production processes, and greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing necessitate a closer look on this market from ESG standpoint.
With increasing use in day-to-day lives, disposable gloves have alarmed the stakeholders about the sustainability issues. It is seen as an opportunity and enterprises are evolving to bring solutions to the problem of synthetic rubber gloves. In response to this, there are enterprises which are working on creating 100 times faster biodegradable surgical gloves with natural rubber. For example, Meditech Gloves, a Malaysian company has taken up this task with Cranfield University. The stakeholders of the enterprise are hopeful that this sustainable alternative is going to leave behind a legacy in the market.
Sustainability experts are also pointing out at irresponsible use of these gloves as one of the biggest reasons behind the problem. Therefore, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle (3R approach) can help us in reducing the effects of synthetic gloves on the environment.
Even though Covid-19 has brought gloves into day-to-day lives, gloves have been used for years. The fact that gloves are inevitable part of operations in various fields makes it difficult to ensure responsible behavior in disposable gloves industry. Therefore, it becomes important to strengthen the recycle eco-system to prevent the gloves from reaching the landfills.
The global disposable gloves market size was valued at USD 12.31 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.8% from 2022 to 2030. India has seen market to generate USD 303 million in 2017 and it is estimated to reach USD 760 million by 2025. Therefore, action-based approach is needed to reduce the effects of gloves on the environment.
• Ansell Ltd.
• Top Glove Corporation Bhd
• Hartalega Holdings Berhad
• Supermax Corporation Berhad
• Kossan Rubber Industries Bhd
• Ammex Corporation
• Kimberly-Clark Corporation
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