Tips to Avoid the High Price of Disposable PPE
Everything you do is about keeping people healthy and well. But unpredictable times may require new solutions to keep everyone safe without disrupting your company’s bottom line. The price explosion in disposable gloves and clothing is a good example of an area that could use some creative thinking.
Why Are Disposable PPE Prices So High?
The disposable PPE market has experienced what could be called a perfect storm of issues since early 2020. Rubber trees, which are the natural source of materials like nitrile and latex, only grow in hot, tropical climates. Because of this, single-use nitrile and latex gloves are exported almost entirely from the two countries that have developed a significant rubber trade - China and Malaysia.
The steep increase in the need for disposable gloves due to COVID-19, combined with the toll the virus took on these source countries caused shutdowns followed by a slow, gradual return to production. As the world continues to struggle with the virus, these materials also continue to be less available than ever before and that has caused prices to skyrocket as much as 340%, with some items increasing as much as 1,200%. If buyers don’t “bid up” and pay the increased prices, the materials go to higher bidders. In many cases, cash buyers jump ahead of the line to buy as much stock as they can in order to resell it at exorbitant prices.
To make matters worse for both industrial end-users and consumers, all disposable glove suppliers are in the same situation. So customers can’t simply move on to another company to find a better price. Instead, prices are in constant flux as buyers are forced to agree to pay market price upon shipment, no matter what the price was when they initially placed an order. This situation is expected to last at least through 2021.
Disposable PPE that Costs Less
Fortunately, you do have some options that are worth exploring. Start by reviewing the disposable gloves and garments you’re used to buying.
Disposable gloves have different issues depending on what you use. Nitrile is a common type of disposable glove that many companies switched to when latex allergies became more common. As of this writing, nitrile glove prices are the most volatile due to the shortage of raw materials. These are the gloves experiencing the incredible, sometimes over 1,000%, increases in price.
Material Substitutes –
Start by reviewing all the nitrile glove applications in your facility to see if you might be able to use an alternative without affecting your processes or safety.
- Vinyl Gloves – prices have not increased dramatically, but there has been a huge uptick in demand for these gloves, making it harder to find a reliable supply.
- Latex Gloves – prices are also steady, but it may be harder to find variations in these gloves as manufacturers are reducing sku’s and in some cases, making as few as just one type and size of glove so they can make large amounts without switching machines and materials to provide variation.
- Powdered Gloves – powdered gloves of all types are harder to get as suppliers try to simplify their production lines. An alternative possibility for those who need powdered is to buy regular gloves and supply glove dust in your facility to add where needed, if you can do so safely.
- Material Blends – some gloves are made with a blend of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and nitrile to create a less expensive glove that performs the same as a full nitrile glove. These gloves are less expensive than traditional nitrile, but may be harder to find.
Disposable garment supplies pose different challenges depending on what you buy. While garments made of high-density polyethylene are not significantly more expensive right now, they are harder to get since they come from just one large U.S. supplier that is struggling to keep up with the increased demand in the pandemic.
Material Substitutes –
- Consider disposable garments that are made of Spunbound Meltblown Spunbound (SMS) polypropylene. The name sounds repetitive and so is the material, which is made of one layer of spunbound polypropylene, a middle layer of meltblown polypropylene, and a third layer of spunbond polypropylene. Both SMS and high-density polyethylene materials perform similarly, but SMS materials are made by more than one manufacturer, so it’s easier to find.
Alternatives to Disposable Gloves
Depending on your work environment and application, you may also be able to save significantly on costs by moving away from disposable gloves entirely. The advent of thinner, more dexterous knit glove shells along with improvements in liquid and oil-resistant glove coatings provide gloves that offer an alternative to single-use disposables for barrier protection. These gloves start out more expensive per pair, but with reuse and laundering, cost savings on the life of a glove can be significant.
While it may seem counterintuitive to go from relatively cheap disposables to more expensive multiple-use gloves, the benefits and cost savings become obvious when you compare attributes and total cost of ownership. This table compares disposable nitrile gloves to Magid’s specially coated general purpose knit gloves.
|Disposable Nitrile Glove||Lightweight Work Glove with TriTek Palm Coating|
|Glove Attributes||Liquid protection only. No specialized grip or abrasion resistance.||Advanced Oil Grip. Minimizes saturation in heavy liquid and oil and provides high abrasion resistance.|
|Non-breathable. Traps sweat and can lead to skin irritation.||Breathable. Allows sweat to evaporate and reduces irritation.|
|Single use. Workers go through multiple gloves each day.||Reusable. Machine-washable shell lasts 20x longer than disposable, so workers can go days, weeks, or even months with the same pair.|
|Rising, unpredictable cost and supply.||Reasonable cost, no supply issues.|
|Total Cost of Ownership based on 1,000 Employees||Cost per pair: $0.31||Cost per pair: $2.80|
|Monthly pairs per employee: 172||Monthly pairs per employee: 6|
|Annualized Spend: $639,840||Annualized Spend: $201,600|
|68% Cost Savings|
Alternative to Double-Gloving
Coated work gloves are also a good alternative if you’re using disposale gloves as a moisture liner under a cut-resistant glove. Cut-resistant, knit work gloves are now available in both palm coated and ¾ coated gloves to keep hands dry and comfortable without the need for double gloving.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
While reusable gloves are not always viable for some applications like medical and foodservice use, industrial applications may find them to be a valuable alternative that saves you both money and the hassle of chasing inventory.