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The truth about disposable biodegradable gloves and do they exist?

Written by: Hendrik

Category: Zero Waste

Updated on:


If you have ever wondered about whether or not disposable gloves exist, you have come to the right place. We did extensive research and covered the questions about the different materials used for gloves and which ones biodegrade without leaving any traces of chemicals behind that can harm the environment.

Today we throw billions of gloves away yearly, and they all go to landfills, or if waste management hasn’t been done correctly, they can end up in our waterways and nature. So what is the solution?

Do environmentally friendly biodegradable gloves exist?

Yes, a few companies have created 100% biodegradable gloves made from biopolymers that can be composted in your home compost bin unless contaminated with any substances you may have touched.

Biopolymers are generally sourced from cornstarch and vegetables like cassava and sugarcane. They are produced by the cells of these living organisms and create a natural composition of enzymes to build a flexible and waterproof material.

When disposed of in a composting facility or your home compost, these biodegradable gloves will break into organic matter within a few months.

What type of glove is generally biodegradable?

Let’s look at the different types of disposable gloves. As with all these gloves, they are single-use gloves, and the production causes greenhouse gas emissions and uses of carbon dioxide. So whichever product you will settle on, remember they all have an environmental impact.

Comparing single-use gloves

ProductMaterialchemical, moisture, and oil-resistant, single-useApplicationBiodegradable Cost
Nitrile a synthetic rubber that offers flexibility, long-life durability, touch-sensitive, and allergy-free. Resistant to water oil and fat. Anti-static, single-useindustrial, domestic, and healthcare purposes. Long-term useNo$$$
Vinylsynthetic rubber, plasticizer and additives (PVC) but less thick than nitrile. It can be used if latex allergic.100% nitrile plus EBT Technology, allowing it to break down in an active landfillgood for non-hazardous situations, food preparation light jobs. Short-term useNo$
Showa 728100% nitrile plus EBT Technology allowing it to break down in an active landfillchemical and acid-resistant, reusable light chemical handling, food, plants, and medicinal Yes, in active landfills$$$
Eco100% biopolymer, cornstarch or sugarcaneprotection from germs, not a snug, food prep, gardeningYes, home compostable$$

Are nitrile gloves biodegradable?

Generally speaking, nitrile gloves are not biodegradable gloves. They are artificial and can only be recycled.

However, one company, SHOWA, has created showa’s eco-best Technology (EBT), which allows the gloves in active landfills to decompose after 1-5 years compared to standard nitrile gloves, which can take up to 100 years.

According to their website, these gloves don’t leave any harmful chemicals behind and, through microbial activity, decompose.

Get them here.

Are vinyl gloves biodegradable?

Vinyl gloves are a man-made product, using ethylene (found in crude oil) and chlorine (found in regular salt), creating Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) or, in short, vinyl. It is a very strong and durable material that doesn’t decompose. It takes hundreds of years to decompose and does not biodegrade when it finds its way into a landfill.

Did you know that vinyl is the second most sold and manufactured plastic resin in the world. It can be found in many applications from construction, the medical industry and the car industries.

Vinyl also causes well-known health risks due to the use of phthalates to soften the material. (source) In short vinyl, gloves are not biodegradable.

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Are latex gloves biodegradable?

Latex is a natural material from the rubber tree that will biodegrade over time. Putting your used gloves into your home compost is not recommended since you may contaminate the compost with the substance you touched the gloves with.

Natural rubber latex can cause allergic reactions in some people, which is why they often opt for nitrile gloves.

Although natural rubber comes from the rubber tree and is a renewable resource, the latex glove has to undergo a chemical process to become the final product you can wear on your hands.

This often happens in third-world countries where the farmers get pretty sick from the chemicals they use due to improper handling and missing equipment.

biodegradable gloves

Do environmentally friendly gloves exist?

The short answer is yes. More and more companies are working on products capable of biodegrading in active landfills through microorganisms or in your home compost over long periods.

Showa is one of the leading brands that has designed biodegradable nitrile gloves. They offer several different types of gloves, from disposable gloves to biodegradable disposable nitrile gloves that can be used in different applications.

The eco-best technology (EBT) is their proprietary formula allowing regular nitrile gloves to be transformed into biodegradable single-use gloves.

Eco Gloves is another company that has produced a glove made from biopolymers to be used as a single-use glove. It comes individually packaged, and each box contains 24 packs with two gloves.

They are a one-size-fits-all glove that is latex-free thick, durable and leak-resistant.

Are disposable gloves harmful to the environment?

Since more people are using gloves to protect themselves from germs, it has been evident that more gloves also find their way into nature, where they can clog up drains and even get eaten by marine life and wildlife. So the answer is yes, they are harmful to the environment.

In this article, learn how to clean without using harmful chemicals or the need for gloves.

Even if your gloves biodegrade, there is still a chance for them to harm an animal if not disposed of properly. Thankfully Terracycle has a program where you can spend most of your used gloves back for recycling, which benefits the planet and its habitants.

The biodegradable gloves are excluded from the program, so your best bet is to compost them in your backyard and send us an image of how it goes.

Final thoughts

I hope this article cleared up some questions and made your decision a little bit easier whether you buy biodegradable nitrile gloves or stick with traditional latex.

Perhaps you have a zero-waste box from TerraCycle and feel you are doing your best by recycling your gloves through their program.

Either way, I hope you get your hands dirty with some soil occasionally because being too sterile doesn’t necessarily do our immune system a favor.

If you have any suggestions or thoughts, leave me a comment below, and I will make sure to get back to you.

Oh, and if you feel like receiving more helpful information in your inbox, consider signing up for our Newsletter, where I keep you up-to-date with deals on ethical clothing brands and handy tips for composting and more sustainable goodness.

Photo of author

Hendrik Kaiser

I've studied biology and lived for 3 years on an off-grid permaculture farm. I love kitesurfing and keeping my body healthy and fit. Hence, I care so much about keeping our environment clean and being as zero waste as possible. Being a zerowasteman is a superpower everyone has inside of themselves, and I want to teach you how you can unleash it.

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