How to Avoid the Price Explosion in Disposable Gloves
In today’s world, disposable gloves have become both increasingly scarce and expensive, making alternatives more necessary than ever.
- By M.B. Sutherland
- Feb 01, 2021
We are living in unpredictable times, so you may need new solutions to keep workers safe without disrupting your company’s bottom line. The price explosion in disposable gloves is a recent problem that could use some creative thinking.
Why Have Disposable Glove Prices Exploded?
The disposable glove market recently experienced what could be called a perfect storm of issues. Rubber trees are the source of materials that are used in disposable gloves, like latex and nitrile. These trees only grow in hot, tropical climates, so single-use latex and nitrile gloves are exported almost exclusively from the two countries with the majority of the rubber trade—Malaysia and China.
The sudden, extreme increase in disposable glove demand because of COVID-19 combined with high virus cases in China and Malaysia early in the pandemic initially caused shutdowns, then a slow return to production. As many countries are still struggling with the virus, these materials are less available than ever, causing prices to shoot up as much as 300 percent. In some cases, the prices have increased a whopping 1,200 percent. If buyers don’t increase their bids and pay the higher prices, materials for disposable PPE go to higher bidders. There have even been reports of cash buyers jumping ahead of the line to buy large amounts of stock so they can resell it at inflated prices.
While the answer in normal times is to simply jump to another supplier who can offer a better price, in this case, all disposable glove suppliers are in the same situation. Prices are in a constant state of flux as buyers are forced to pay market price when their products are shipped rather than upon order. So, if the price is higher at shipment than it was when they originally placed the order, the buyers have to absorb the additional cost. Unfortunately, this situation is expected to persist through 2021.
Disposable Gloves that Won’t Break Your Budget
Fortunately, you do have options! To begin, review the disposable gloves and other items you’re used to buying. Many companies switched to using nitrile gloves when latex allergies became common. However, nitrile glove prices have been more volatile recently because of raw material shortages. This is the area in which we have seen price increases of 1,000 percent or even higher. A solution to this issue is to review your nitrile glove applications to see if you can substitute another type of glove without impacting your safety or your processes.
- Vinyl. Vinyl glove prices haven’t increased significantly, but demand for vinyl has grown enormously, and many customers are having a hard time finding a reliable supply.
- Latex. Latex glove prices are holding steady, but it’s not as easy to find different varieties. It takes time and effort to switch machines and materials to make many sizes and types of gloves, so most manufacturers have reduced their latex glove SKU’s. The focus is on greatly increasing production numbers of a few sizes that fit most.
- Powdered. Here too, all types of powdered gloves have become hard to find as suppliers work to simplify production. If applications in your facility need powdered gloves, you may consider buying non-powdered gloves and stocking glove dust for your workers to add if they can do so safely.
- Material Blends. It is possible to find gloves that perform the same as a full nitrile product by exploring gloves with a blended construction of nitrile and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). These gloves are harder to find, but have the added benefit of being less expensive than full nitrile gloves.
Disposable Glove Alternatives
While this won’t work for every application or work environment, you may be able to save on costs by considering a switch away from disposable gloves completely. New technologies and materials have provided thinner, more dexterous glove shells that are knit with advanced yarns. Recent years have also brought us improvements in glove coatings, some of which resist liquids, oils and keep hands dry and comfortable. The right combination of attributes can be a legitimate alternative to single-use disposable gloves for barrier protection. And while it’s true that multiple-use gloves are more expensive per pair than disposable ones, you may actually save money by making the switch through laundering and reuse. The secret to switching to reusable gloves lies in researching attributes and the total cost of ownership. The example below compares using disposable nitrile gloves to using a specially coated general purpose knit glove.
If you’re buying single-use, disposable gloves as a moisture-blocking liner under a cut-resistant glove, coated work gloves can give you all the benefits you need in one glove. Available now in both three-fourths coatings and palm coatings, these gloves keep workers’ hands comfortable and dry without the need for an extra pair of gloves.
Know Your Applications, Know Your Options
Applications like medical procedures and foodservice can’t always make the switch to a reusable glove. Still, many industrial applications are ideal for this alternative that can save you money and the trouble of explaining budget overages and short inventory.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.