The Accumulation of P.P.E. in U.S. Landfills

Four Years After the Memorable 2020 Lockdown, and Tons of P.P.E. Pollution Later, Where Do We Go From Here?

Still Image of PPE in Landfill Story on ABC News

Single-use personal protective equipment, referred to as "P.P.E.", is required equipment or apparel worn on the job site to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries or illnesses. These safety supplies are designed for short durations and are typically disposed into the trash at the end of the day or with each shift change.

There are over 3000 active landfills and over 10,000 closed municipal landfills currently operating in the U.S. and while they’re camouflaged to blend in with its surrounding, the disposal of P.P.E. without considering its environmental impact and proper waste management practices has become a growing concern across the country.


The materials used in P.P.E., such as NWF, polyethylene and plastics, are primarily derived from petroleum and are not easily biodegradable. The extensive use of predominantly non-degradable plastics in P.P.E. has led to an accumulation in landfills, with potential consequences for leachates and the bioaccumulation of microplastics. Experts also predict that the United States is on track to run out of capacity in landfills by the year 2036.

With an estimated 100 billion pairs of disposable gloves and 40 billion pairs of single-use ear plugs being disposed each year, diverting and treating these types of residues while exploring more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as biodegradable or reusable P.P.E. has become crucial on a global scale.


Today, businesses and consumers can easily do their part to reduce microplastic, landfill, pollution, carbon footprints and reliance on fossil fuel based resources. A new ERA in sustainability shopping has arrived and it’s ushering new landfill-friendly P.P.E. product innovations that perform like conventional counterparts without busting budgets or sacrificing performance.


Available today are GreenCircle® certified biodegradable gloves that meet ASTM D5511/D5526 biodegradability standards. These single-use nitrile gloves, general purpose work gloves and select chemical-resistant gloves feature special proprietary glove additives that allow them to breakdown in landfill in as little as 386 days resulting in healthy soil.

Purchasing a certified carbon neutral work glove from the Traffi® LXT® range supports a reduction in Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emissions, and helps extends our planet’s life and Eco-systems safe for generations. The emissions from raw materials all the way up to delivery has been measured and offset.


PIP® Pinchfit™ BioSoft™ Bio-Based Foam Ear Plugs

New to the market are the world’s first bio-based single-use ear plugs available in corded, uncorded and metal detectable styles. BioSoft™ ear plugs are the first TAA compliant ear plugs to be made from American made bio-based foam technologies. This line of industrial hearing protection boasts a lower carbon footprint –up to 5.6x less CO2 Carbon Emissions than traditional polyurethane foam ear plugs and will decompose 76% in 180 days in landfill.


Many manufacturers are taking the next step in sustainability and utilizing an Eco-friendly alternative material called recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET). The recycling process for rPET involves collecting, cleaning and processing discarded P.E.T. plastic bottle products from recovery facilities and then shredded them in mass. Extruded as a fiber and then blended with recuperated polyester yarns, it creates a bio-based fabric that is being used in industrial cut-resistant sleeve protectors, industrial work gloves and ANSI compliant high-visibility work apparel worn for traffic safety.


Active, secondary or contract packaging operations can easily eliminate a significant amount of landfill plastic at no extra cost by replacing silica gel and calcium chloride desiccants with plastic-free biodegradable desiccants. Made with all-natural bentonite clay packaged in a sustainable Kraft paper, these bleach-free, plastic-free and FSC certified biodegradable desiccant packs leave behind healthy soil. In addition, the production processes require zero chemical inputs or additives, as well as low energy and low water consumption resulting in a small carbon footprint.

Award-winning companies such as Vegware™ provide a new way to care for the environment while securing food safety. Simply toss these containers in with food scrap waste - no need to sort. Attractive and durable, these Eco-friendly products are a quality tool for completing food service tasks. To-go and take-out food services as well as outdoor catering services can replace petroleum based plastic straws and food containers with those made with ASTM D6400 certified compostable plant-based PLA type containers. PLA is a plastic substrate made from fermented plant starch (usually corn) and it’s fast becoming a popular alternative to traditional petroleum based plastics.

We aren’t able to change Earth’s past, but together we can change its future! Consider replacing single-use plastics with sustainable products that perform like their conventional counterparts but are much healthier for the planet. We encourage you to browse our new Eco-site to learn about the difference Eco-friendly products can make and how you convert to products that are better for life, earth and community.

Click Here to Shop For Eco-Friendly PPE

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