Researchers from Cranfield University, UK, and Malaysian company Meditech Gloves, have developed biodegradable natural rubber (NR) gloves that spell the ideal future raw material for sustainable manufacturing. The special formulation of natural latex that makes the gloves is also free of the presence of proteins that cause allergies.
Currently, over 80 million gloves are needed by COVID-19 health response teams worldwide each month, and the global medical gloves market is predicted to be worth US$70 billion by 2027. As most of the gloves produced to satisfy this surge in demand are made from petroleum-based nitrile rubber, they will likely end up in landfill and remain there for at least 100 years.
Cranfield University and Meditech’s initial research, however, found that time and energy savings of up to 50% can be achieved in a revised manufacturing process while modifying the formulation of the natural latex, in order to deactivate the naturally-occurring proteins within the original. The new formulation of the natural latex further makes the process of glove manufacture more energy efficient and reduces wastage of both raw materials.
Krzysztof Koziol, Professor of Composites Engineering at Cranfield University, said the findings “are just the beginning of this journey to improve sustainability, biodegradability and reduce production time.” Koizol added that the planting of more CO2-absorbing rubber trees that improve the environment should become the priority in the Net Zero carbon efforts.
The next phase of the research will investigate how the natural latex raw material can be modified to rapidly enhance the biodegradability of NR gloves. Cranfield University’s postdoctoral students who worked on the research regularly access the Meditech Gloves plant in Malaysia for rapid deployment of the findings from laboratory to the real world.
“We are aiming to become a leader in the sustainable production of degradable, protein-free, NR gloves, contributing to the reduction of CO2 and becoming a more efficient producer of highest quality medical grade gloves, to support a greener future to benefit everyone,” said Dr. Effendi Tenang, Company President of Meditech Gloves.