THE demand for synthetic rubber or nitrile gloves is growing at a robust pace, but even so, industry players do not expect it to replace the need for natural rubber, which currently makes up 70% of global consumption.
The seat Malaysian glove makers enjoy in the world stage cannot be underestimated – they supply 40% and 65% of synthetic and natural rubber gloves respectively of the world’s needs.
Much of the appeal, which has led to the growing demand for nitrile examination gloves in the United States and Europe, stems from concerns of protein allergy from natural rubber. But an industry source points out that with the rapid advent of technology, there may be less likelihood for natural rubber gloves to trigger allergies.
”With better research and development, manufacturers are able to produce powder-free natural rubber gloves which has cut down the issues of protein allergy tremendously. As such, the users scope has widened in both developed and potential markets,” says Top Glove Corp Bhd executive director Lim Cheong Guan, adding that there’s no likelihood of nitrile replacing natural rubber gloves.
“It is not possible ... if we were to study the properties and characteristic of natural rubber gloves, it is by nature more comfortable as the fittings reduce fatigue, especially surgical gloves. This is important as the user needs a good fit and a protective layer and not something that causes fatigue when performing surgery and other medical procedures,” says Lim. Another plus point is that natural latex gloves have elastic properties that self seal if there is a pin hole. On the other hand, for nitrile gloves, the pin hole becomes bigger with movement.
One of its most influential characteristic is that natural rubber gloves are bio-degradable. “This has been recognised widely as natural rubber gloves can be recycled and turned into other products,” he adds.
In addition, given that natural rubber gloves are cheaper, it is easier for glove makers to penetrate new markets, particularly developing countries which are catching up with higher hygiene and healthcare standards.
On the other hand, Supermax Corp Bhd executive chairman and group managing director Datuk Seri Stanley Thai highlights several issues that have cropped up over nitrile gloves. Since the second half of 2008, due to multiple cost increases, he says, several nitrile powder-free glove manufacturers had ramped up production of ultra-thin-nitrile-powder-free gloves, some of which were rejected by several hospitals in the United States. “There have also been an increase in the detention of these products by the US FDA on container ships at the port of entry,” he adds.