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Give sustainability a hand

31 May 2023

Chris Wahlers explores the growing significance of sustainable and environmental practices in safety glove manufacturing and highlights some of the key initiatives that are contributing to this positive change.

AS WE have seen in society generally in recent years, there has been a notable and growing shift in the manufacturing industry towards adopting more environmentally friendly practices. As companies across various sectors recognise the importance of sustainability, safety glove manufacturers like Unigloves have also joined the movement by implementing innovative measures to reduce environmental impact. 

From talking to our customers, there is no doubt that they are increasingly motivated by their own environmental responsibility and are looking to work with partners across their supply chains that are in turn, sharing that approach to sustainability as part of their own Corporate and Social Responsibility. 

We believe that there will be a growing demand placed upon hand protection manufacturers to ingrain sustainability and environmental manufacturing into their own products and services.

This is an approach that manufacturers like ourselves are increasingly looking at – not just from a product design perspective but also from a manufacturing, operational and business ethos perspective. 

We believe the future will see sustainability and reduced environmental impact literally sewn into the heart of the safety glove market in line with growing materials development and sustainable manufacturing advancements.

And these developments are already happening. From our own perspective at Unigloves we are designing and developing a growing range of environmentally conscious product lines.

But these developments will have to strike a balance – the need to protect the environment whilst at the same time protecting workers against the multiple workplace hazards they face – ensuring that all safety gloves that come to market are certified against the key EN standards including EN 388 (Mechanical Risks), EN 374 (Chemical Risks). EN 407 (Thermal Risks) EN 511(Cold Protection), and EN 60903 (Electrical Risks). The goal will be to balance sustainable technology without impacting physical performance or real-time shelf life.

So how as an in industry are we looking at developing solutions to meet these goals to support growing market demand? As we have said, the move is already taking place and is being built around a number of key platforms including:

1) Sustainable materials

One of the primary areas of focus for safety glove manufacturers is the sourcing and utilisation of sustainable materials. Historically, traditional glove manufacturing processes have involved the use of synthetic materials derived from non-renewable resources. However, with a greater emphasis on sustainability, manufacturers are now exploring alternative materials including natural latex and recycled fibres, reducing environmental impact. 

As an example, here at Unigloves, we are increasingly putting sustainability and social responsibility issues at the forefront
 of our approaches to new product development. Latest developments in this field include:

Biodegradable performance

Thanks to the addition of a biodegradable additive which attracts microbes found in landfills, gloves ideally suited to a wide range of industrial applications can achieve 90% biodegradation in landfill after just 490 days compared to traditional nitrile gloves which can take over 100 years.

The biodegradation method is strictly enzymatic, dissolving and de-polymerising the polymer chain naturally.

This biodegrading efficacy has been verified by an independent lab, using ASTM D5526 and ASTM D5511 methods

Recycled plastics

Recycled plastics are going to feature increasingly within the hand protection sector – providing measurable and demonstrable environmental benefits and helping support a more circular economy.

Here at Unigloves we are about to launch our first range of mechanical, cut resistant and impact protective gloves manufactured using recycled plastics (RPET).

The environmental benefits of taking this approach?

  • Each pair of gloves contains recycled plastic (RPET); reducing reliance on virgin oil based polyesters.
    • Reuse recycled waste plastic bottles, food containers etc.

    • Uses less oil and resources.

    • Uses plastic free packaging.

  • Reuse recycled waste plastic bottles, food containers etc.
  • Uses less oil and resources.
  • Reduces pollution and our manufacturing carbon footprint by saving:
    • Virgin material
    • CO2
    • Water
    • Oil

Natural rubber latex

The milky latex extracted from the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis, is used as the primary source of natural rubber that is used in glove manufacturing and is naturally biodegradable.

Additional accreditations 

As well as physically protecting the glove wearer, it is also important to safeguard their general well-being when wearing protective gloves and it is good to look out for products manufactured using materials that meet initiatives such as the OEKO-TEX 100 STANDARD.

The OEKO-TEX 100 STANDARD certifies that products have been tested for harmful substances and that every component of the product, from the fabric to the thread and accessories, has been rigorously tested against a list of up to 350 toxic chemicals.

OEKO-TEX 100 STANDARD is an independent testing and certification system for textile products from all stages of production (fibres, yarns, fabrics) along the textile value chain. 

Recycled claim standard

It will be increasingly important for glove organisations wanting to source sustainable and environmentally responsible gloves to look for certifications that will help aid their selection process.

The Recycled Claim Standard is associated to products containing recycled materials. Each stage of production is required to be certified, beginning at the recycling stage and ending at the final business-to-business transaction for the end product.

2) Reduced carbon footprint

Reducing carbon emissions is a crucial aspect of sustainable manufacturing. 

Safety glove manufacturers are actively working to minimise their carbon footprint by adopting energy-efficient practices and utilising renewable energy sources. This includes investing in energy-efficient machinery, optimising manufacturing processes to minimise waste and energy consumption, and integrating renewable energy technologies such as solar panels and wind turbines into their facilities. By prioritising the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

In line with these goals, we are implementing active ways to reduce our own Carbon footprint and environmental impact through dedicated projects at our four glove manufacturing facilities in Malaysia and over the last 18 months have:

  • - Reduced our total carbon-dioxide emission intensity
  • - Reduced our water consumption
  • - Invested significantly in our wastewater treatment plants
  • - Reduced our scheduled waste

Throughout our business, as standard practice, we integrate the consideration of environmental concerns into all our decision-making and activities. We are investing in green infrastructure like solar panels and EV charging points, and we have a long-term sustainability strategy in place.

3) Waste management and recycling

An integral part of sustainable manufacturing is effective waste management and recycling. Safety glove manufacturers have implemented comprehensive waste reduction strategies to minimise the amount of waste generated during production. 

They prioritise recycling initiatives, promoting the reuse of materials, and implementing waste segregation systems. Additionally, manufacturers are partnering with specialised recycling facilities to ensure that gloves that have reached the end of their lifecycle are properly recycled or disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner and as we have highlighted incorporate biodegradable technology into products that ensures significantly increased biodegradation of gloves reaching landfill.

At Unigloves, we are committed to reducing plastic. Our disposable range is plastic packaging free and we are working on a project to reduce plastic packaging in our existing work wear range of gloves. We have to rethink and redesign every aspect of our business to see where positive change can be made.

4) Product innovation and lifecycle assessment

Safety glove manufacturers are increasingly considering the entire lifecycle of their products, from raw material sourcing to end-of-life disposal. They are conducting lifecycle assessments to identify areas for improvement and innovation. This assessment enables manufacturers to develop gloves with extended durability, improved biodegradability, and reduced environmental impact. By creating products with a smaller ecological footprint, manufacturers contribute to a more sustainable and circular economy.

5) Business ethos

How businesses operate at their core, the values they hold and how these are built into their way of being is another area of the hand protection market we believe will become influential as businesses look to partner with reputable suppliers.

As the industry moves towards a more sustainable footing, there is of course always the risk of some manufacturers ‘green washing’. It has been seen in other sectors and there is the potential risk for this to happen within the hand protection space.

So, it will be important for those businesses that are looking for a true environmentally minded hand protection partner to look at the ethos of the companies they are sourcing products from.

I believe organisations are and will become ever more discerning about who they are doing business with and how their partners and suppliers operate themselves. 

Hand protection firms will need to increasingly demonstrate that they themselves are on a journey of increased environmental understanding, increased sustainability and an authentic and demonstrable ethical approach to business.

Unigloves has engaged sustainability consultants The Lifework Group to build, support and keep us honest in our approach to sustainability. The Lifework Group’s mission is to create and balance positive societal, environmental and commercial impact through behavioural and system change. 

At Unigloves, we are slowly seeing this system change and only use suppliers and sub-contractors whose ethics and values are aligned with our own, and we adopt a supportive attitude to working with them to make improvements to their own business. 

We are incredibly proud that we are a full member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (one of only 77 companies in the UK), which aims to promote respect for workers' rights around the globe.
As a full member of the ETI we have signed up for its Principles of Implementation. These set out the approaches to ethical trade that member companies should follow and require companies to:

  • Demonstrate a clear commitment to ethical trade 
  • Integrate ethical trade into their core business practices 
  • Drive year-on-year improvements to working conditions 
  • Support suppliers to improve working conditions – for example, through advice and training 
  • Report openly and accurately about their activities 

We are also proud and active supporters of environmental initiatives; Ecologi and Plastic Bank. 


The growth of environmental practices in safety glove manufacturing signifies a positive trend toward sustainable and responsible manufacturing. By adopting sustainable materials, reducing carbon emissions, conserving water, implementing waste management and recycling initiatives, and considering product lifecycle impacts, safety glove manufacturers are taking significant steps to reduce their environmental footprint. 

These efforts contribute to a cleaner environment, while also ensuring the safety and protection of workers who rely on these gloves. As the demand for sustainable products continues to rise, it is encouraging to witness the commitment of safety glove manufacturers in adopting environmentally friendly practices that benefit both the planet and its inhabitants.

Chris Wahlers is UK MD of hand protection specialists Unigloves. For more information, visit www.unigloves.co.uk