On average, an American hospital generates one pound of medical waste per bed per day. That puts millions of disposable gloves in landfills.
Traditionally, disposable gloves should not be reused or recycled. But the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us otherwise. The only effective solution to lessen the environmental impact of nitrile is “Reduce, reuse, and recycle.” So, yes, nitrile gloves are recyclable.
This article will address the question “Can nitrile gloves be recycled?” in detail and guide you to use medical PPEs more efficiently and recycle them properly.
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Can I Recycle Nitrile Gloves?
Each year, employees in the US use approximately 300 billion disposable gloves. The number is shocking, but it continues to increase. So, what can we do for the environment? Can we recycle nitrile gloves?
The answer is yes; nitrile glove recycling is feasible as long as the gloves are uncontaminated. Though it only takes one extra step to segregate them and bring them outdoors for the recycling companies to collect, the relief you give the planet is notable.
Be aware that if nitrile gloves are contaminated, they become hazardous waste and are no longer recyclable. Substances that can contaminate a pair of handwear are harsh chemicals, bodily fluids, oil, or blood.
Once you suspect that a pair might pose a threat of cross-contamination, put them in the hazardous trash bin. Don’t mix hazardous waste with recyclable gloves.
How to Prepare Your Nitrile Gloves for Recycling?
The first step to recycle nitrile gloves is to sort them into your general recycling bins, which should only contain undifferentiated dry waste. Then, contact a local recycling facility and set up a schedule so they can pick up the gloves.
Most companies accept gloves that have contacted non-hazardous chemicals like water-based paint and hair dyes, but you must wash and dry them beforehand.
Fortunately, disposable gloves are easy to clean. After use, when the gloves are still on your hands, apply a small amount of soap and rub your hands together to wash them. Next, rinse them thoroughly under running water. Finally, take off the gloves and hang them to dry naturally.
What Happens to Nitrile Gloves That Are Recycled?
Firstly, they are collected and stored in a facility until there are enough to begin the recycling process. The gloves are sorted, washed, and shredded. The final step involves melting and extruding the rubber into new recycled materials.
Companies might sell them as raw materials or further process them into products like park benches, watering cans, plastic flower pots, or waste bins.
The collecting and processing of nitrile waste are usually carried out locally to reduce the cost of transport. Many companies also employ the most up-to-date technologies and infrastructures to reduce environmental consequences.
What About Other Types of Rubber Gloves?
Are vinyl gloves recyclable? In theory, nitrile, latex, and vinyl gloves are all recyclable. But nitrile is the most preferable.
Latex is made from natural rubber and is more environmentally friendly, but it might pose allergy threats to users. Thus, it requires strict and demanding procedures to recycle latex gloves.
Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride), on the other hand, releases dangerous dioxins and carcinogens across its lifecycle, including during occupational exposure, disposal, recycling, and reuse. Many programs discontinue the upcycling and sales of vinyl gloves for this reason.
If you intend to recycle rubber gloves after use, choose nitrile ones. Don’t mix them with other types when you sort them out for recycling.
Related: Nitrile vs Vinyl Gloves Comparison.
What Can You Do for the Environment Besides Recycling Nitrile Gloves?
As mentioned above, recycling alone might not be enough. To make a positive change, you must also reduce and reuse disposable gloves.
The first action you can take is to consider the glove type and quality carefully before purchasing.
Make sure you buy gloves that are well-fitting and suitable for the job. If you purchase the wrong size, try giving them to someone else instead of throwing them into the trash can.
Additionally, 30% of glove usage can be reduced when you choose high-quality pairs. Though such gloves might be more expensive, they will never tear or rip in the middle of a task. You can also wash and reuse them.
In medical settings, recycling can be tricky as most gloves are contaminated. So, use non-touch techniques when possible to minimize the times of wearing and changing gloves.
Disposable gloves are known as single-use gloves, which means they should never be reused. However, a recent study by the University of Waterloo (Canada) found that examination gloves can be reused up to 20 times (depending on the quality of the pair) once disinfected properly.
Nitrile gloves are not eco-friendly. Their original material – crude oil – is non-renewable and can cause pollution upon collection. When you reuse a pair of nitrile gloves ten times, you save the environmental cost of producing nine pairs. So, try to reuse disposable gloves whenever you can.
Follow these steps to wash nitrile gloves for reusing:
Step 1. Wash the gloves with soap and water while they are still on your hands and hang them to air dry.
Step 2. Before disinfecting gloves, wash your hands. Rub them with an alcohol-based sanitizer or wash them with soap and clean water.
Step 3. Place the washed gloves on a clean flat surface and spray them with a 70% Ethanol solution or sponge them with a disinfectant. If necessary, you can disinfect the interior. Wait for the exterior to completely dry, turn the gloves inside out, and repeat the steps.
When you finish sanitizing nitrile gloves, always inspect them again to make sure they show no signs of deterioration.
How to discard unrecyclable nitrile gloves?
Incorrect disposal of hazardous waste results in cross-contamination. So, pay attention to discarding unrecyclable gloves properly.
You should separate them from the rest of your trash and put them in the hazardous waste bin. Wash your hands with soap and water right afterward. Don’t touch your eyes, face, or mouth before washing your hands.
Why do I need to recycle nitrile gloves?
Human lifestyles generate a great deal of plastic and rubber waste daily. Nowadays, many places require disposable gloves as a mandatory safety standard, such as clinics, hospitals, and laboratories.
An average pair of nitrile gloves can take decades to degrade. During its degradation, nitrile releases toxic acrylonitrile and butadiene into the surrounding soil and air and pollutes them. Burning nitrile also emits a large amount of greenhouse gas.
Recycling helps reduce the need for landfills, save original resources to produce new gloves, and lessen substantial water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Are nitrile gloves compostable?
Nitrile gloves are neither biodegradable nor compostable. If you try to compost them, they will contaminate the entire batch.
Nitrile gloves are used in multiple industries, from medical settings and science laboratories to hair salons and tattoo parlors. Though they bring enormous benefits, they can harm the environment when used excessively and disposed of improperly.
Fortunately, the answer to “Can nitrile gloves be recycled?” is yes. You can take action now to reduce nitrile’s negative impact on the planet. However, remember that most medical waste is contaminated, and thus unrecyclable.
Veronica is our content editor. She is a talent in delivery. Her main work is editing and writing articles that are both informative and simple to follow. She is in charge of synthesizing our understanding of what personal protection equipment (PPE) is needed in each job, how to best apply it, and how to visualize that equipment.