More and more companies and organizations are searching for ways to make their products biodegradable to reduce how much trash ends up in our landfills every day. And, as we reported in our opening section, PPE is one of those products piling up in landfills. In 2018, MCR Safety introduced our first biodegradable glove, the 6041. We have introduced a new, thicker style option in 2021, the 5380. Both styles are intended to help address the increased waste created by the high volume of single-use PPE brought about by the pandemic.
The nitrile polymer found in these gloves is composed of a unique material that attracts microbes, inducing biodegradation in biologically active landfills. Now, we will highlight the scientific testing that backs up both are biodegradable and then discuss each product.
To ensure the biodegradation process occurs, we look to official test results that back up eco-friendly claims. In the world of biodegradability, two international test methods from the American Society of Testing and Measurements (ASTM) are used. ASTM D5511 is considered a short-term test method performed under optimal conditions, and ASTM D5526 is a more rigorous, long-term test method. Both tests are administered by independent accredited laboratories and measure a glove's percentage of biodegradation. The chart below provides a visual of this measurement.
The goal of each test is to identify evidence of biodegradation, though there are some noteworthy differences in the way the test is conducted.
Here is a breakdown of each test type:
Determines biodegradation of plastic materials in a lab setting. In this test method, the test material is exposed to a collection of processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen, operated only on household waste.
The test is designed to yield a percentage of conversion of carbon from the test material to carbon in the gaseous phase under optimal laboratory conditions. The short-term total biodegradation score assumes that the product’s material will continue degrading over the long term. The downside to this test is that it is performed in laboratories under ideal conditions that may not mimic real-life applications. That’s where the ASTM D5526 comes in.
Provides realistic biodegradability performance assessment by replicating typical conditions found in municipal landfills. It’s the more rigorous of the two tests and evaluates biodegradation under ideal and imperfect conditions. It is designed to represent more real-life landfill environments over a 3- to 6-month window, imitating landfill environments with accelerated simulated conditions consisting of low heat, high pressure, limited oxygen, no light, and low moisture.
Keep in mind; both test methods provide clarity around a product’s biodegradability in biologically active landfills instead of conventional landfills. One type of active landfill is a bioreactor landfill, or a landfill meant to recirculate its leachate to promote decomposition and degradation of materials. Across the United States, there are approximately 1,090 landfills designed for this purpose.
The environmentally friendly landfill shown above adds water to the waste to speed up decomposition. The methane gas produced as a result of the decomposition of organic materials is converted to electricity. Here is a PDF showing more of the differences between conventional landfills and bioreactor landfills.
Below are the two biodegradable glove styles MCR Safety currently offers.
Food Prep and Food Handling
Our 6041 disposable nitrile gloves perform the same as regular nitrile gloves, yet will degrade and break down in biologically active landfills. These gloves are tested to ASTM D5526 for the biodegradation of their plastic materials. After 202 days, the 6041’s total degradation percentage was 39.9%. A similar untreated nitrile disposable glove produced 0% biodegradation, meaning the 6041 provides 100% improvement in biodegradability over standard nitrile disposable gloves.
Our 6041 gloves are also made with component materials that comply with all federal regulations for food handling. We cover food handling more in-depth in our Food Preparation article, which you may be interested in checking out!
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Dish and Kitchen Gloves
Are you looking for a little more durability than what is offered in the 6041? Our new 5380 biodegradable nitrile glove comes in at 8 mils thick, offering longer wear. It’s perfect for more intensive food preparation and kitchen glove tasks.
The 5380 is tested to ASTM D5511, validating its biodegradability in more optimal lab settings. In addition to short-term validation, the 5380 was tested in the ASTM D5511 lab setting for a total of 180 days. On the 180th day of testing, the glove showed 32.41% degradation (see images below). It is reasonable to conclude that the product will continue degrading.
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Biodegradation Test Results
We thought it would be helpful to visually show how biodegradation looks, as a picture is worth a thousand words. n below images you can see the colonies of brownish bacteria that have formed. This is evidence that the biodegradation process has begun and the nitrile polymer used has attracted microorganisms to begin breaking down the glove.
Images shown below are microscopic images of test samples before and after 180days.
Before and After Images
Evidence of Biodegradation
Our 5380 style is also tested to EN 14855-1, which determines the aerobic biodegradability of plastic materials under controlled composting conditions measured by the analysis of evolved carbon dioxide.
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Where to buy biodegradable gloves?
Leave us a comment, and we will have one of our distributors provide you with a quote. You can also expedite a trial order by visiting our Buy & Try Safety Store.
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What is aerobic biodegradation?
- It is the breaking down of organic material by microorganisms in the presence of oxygen. As the degradation occurs, carbon dioxide, water, and mineral salts are the by-products.
What is anerobic biodegradation?
- It is the breaking down of organic material by microorganisms in the absence of oxygen. This process yields carbon dioxide, methane, mineral salts, and new biomass.
Are nitrile gloves biodegradable?
- Yes, as long as they’re made with the right materials, such as our 6041 nitrile disposable gloves and new 5380 nitrile gloves.
Are latex gloves biodegradable?
- Yes, latex comes from the natural world, making them biodegradable. However, latex gloves are often made with multiple chemicals and plasticizers, similar to latex balloons, and will take years to degrade,.
Additional Biodegradable Insight
We've primarily highlighted above everything there is to know about our new biodegradable gloves. However, there is a vast amount of information on biodegradation. And, for those who want to know more, no worries. Simply click the below image, and we will help build your biodegradable knowledge!
MCR Safety: Protecting the Planet and People
Are you feeling guilty about using countless disposable gloves every day? Gloves that will take decades to decompose? Don’t worry; we’re on top of it! Our specialty is protecting people. However, our planet is going through some dynamic changes in the 21st century, especially as the world population approaches 9 billion people occupying it. At MCR Safety, we’re constantly engaged in research and development to make improvements in the products we sell, ensuring we all have a protected home for centuries to come!
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We welcome any comments, feedback, or suggestions for how we can best protect people at work.
For over 45 years, MCR Safety has proven to be a world leader in gloves, glasses, and garments. Whether it's on the shop floor, an oil rig, or a construction site, we are there to provide solutions to workplace hazards. It's all part of our commitment to protect people.
No matter your industry, we have the personal protective equipment you need.
Learn more about MCR Safety by checking out our most recent video. For more information, browse our website, request a catalog, find a distributor, or give us a call at 800-955-6887.