First, let’s start with the popular types of disposable gloves, which are used in many different industries for numerous different applications. The most popular type are nitrile gloves, which provide great chemical resistance, strong puncture resistance and great comfort and fit. Next are latex gloves, which probably offer the best fit and feel, but have taken a backseat to nitrile due to latex allergies that many people have. Lastly, vinyl (polyvinyl chloride) are a looser fitting, lower cost glove that is not as puncture resistant, so they are popular in the food service industry and other areas where many glove changes are necessary.
Now that we got the descriptions over with, let’s get into why there are such shortages of gloves, driving the costs up significantly. Before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19 in the United States, all three types of disposable gloves were readily available in every size, thickness and color and nobody thought twice about it. Then all of a sudden March 2020 came and everyone was scrambling to load up on gloves. Obviously hospitals needed them most and needed lots of them, but that did not mean mechanics, maintenance workers, plumbers, painters, manufacturers and other types of industrial workers needed any fewer. Demand was up big! That does not sounds like a big deal though. There are always times where demand increases for a product, so the supply increases to meet the demand and everyone is happy. Not so quick when it comes to disposable gloves during the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. Where are disposable gloves manufactured? Mostly Malaysia and China. What countries were completely shut down for months at the beginning of the pandemic, causing a stop in production? Malaysia and China amongst others. Even after they got back to producing, in November of 2020 the largest manufacturer in Malaysia had to shut down 28 of their factories again after over 2,000 of their employees contracted COVID-19.
As demand increased, supply did not. It only decreased as everyone around the world demanded gloves. Over the past year bids have been coming in from all over the world for the same gloves, basically causing a bidding war for disposable gloves. You know how when there is a bidding war for a popular house on the market and it sells for way over asking price? Well that has been happening for the past year for something as insignificant as disposable gloves.
Logically, many people would ask “Why don’t manufacturers in the USA and other countries start manufacturing gloves?” That was my first thought when the shortages began. The first problem is that the raw materials for disposable gloves mostly come from rubber trees, which are grown in hot, tropical climates, like China and Malaysia. Those materials would have to be imported to the USA, which is not the end of the world, but right now there are even shortages of the raw materials, so Malaysia and China are not very eager to part with those materials. Secondly, unlike machinery for something like disposable masks, where a manufacturer was fairly easily able to convert from whatever they were producing to producing masks, the machinery to produce disposable gloves is very specific and can only be used for gloves.
At this point in March of 2021 the glove supply has not improved. Nitrile glove prices are still on the rise, while latex seems to have leveled off and vinyl has come back down to more of a realistic price level. Consumers who previously were using nitrile or latex and realized they can get by with vinyl instead, have made the switch. I do not think the glove prices ever get back to where they were before the pandemic. Eventually, as the pandemic hopefully becomes a thing of the past, supply will meet demand and prices will come down, hopefully close to where they were, but probably not all the way. It is looking like we won’t see much change until 2022.
Here at Bigelow Products we have sourced some nitrile/vinyl blend gloves to help give some of the nitrile features to the gloves, while keeping the costs down with the vinyl. They are powder free with good cut and puncture resistance and excellent oil and grease resistance. Feel free to give us a call or order through our website at www.bigelowproducts.com