Contaminant of the Month: Keeping Your Mitts Out of the Compost (Please)!

Contaminant of the Month: Keeping Your Mitts Out of the Compost (Please)!

Compost Manufacturing Alliance > Blog > Contaminant of the Month > Contaminant of the Month: Keeping Your Mitts Out of the Compost (Please)!

Contaminant of the Month, plastic gloves, compositing,

 

February 1, 2018
Susan Thoman

Years before my illustrious composting career evolved, I worked as a restaurant prep cook. During high school and college, I diced and peeled carrots, scrunched freezing cold potato cubes together into thick, creamy egg dressing for potato salad, and spent every Saturday morning peeling 50-pound bags of onions (which is strangely correlated to a limited dating life in those days, as I smelled not of lavender and lilacs, but of a giant onion). In those days, the cooks wore reusable neoprene yellow gloves for mixing, then sprayed them down with scalding hot water, turned them inside out, and hung them to dry at night. Then, the next day, the gloves went on again, were used repeatedly, and were only tossed out when they got nicked with a knife or holes were worn through.

Fast forward to 2018. There is a disturbing number of single use disposable poly gloves migrating into compost collection containers from commercial kitchens. These thin plastic gloves are hard to see, and a few careless flips of the wrist can seriously compromise a day’s worth of the careful sorting taken to transform luscious onion ends, carrot peels, and egg shells into beneficial compost and soil.

Food prep scraps are an excellent source of nutrient rich feedstock for composting, and it is a heavy feedstock that significantly lightens garbage tonnage (and in some cities, disposal costs) when diverted from the garbage pile to the compost bin. Yet, when scores of gloves insidiously end up in compost feedstocks, processing facilities are faced with the costly dilemma of picking them out the front end (when they are difficult to see) or removing them out the back end through screening and blowing. Alternatively, if too many gloves come into the feedstocks, they may decide to reject certain loads altogether.

So why are there so many gloves? 45 billion disposable gloves are estimated to be used in the food service industry annually and globally. In some kitchens, it is also estimated that the average food preparation worker goes through as many 20 pairs per day! With statistics like that, it is no wonder that a significant number make it into compost collection programs. Yet, are there options or opportunities to consider or promote gloveless mixing? Are reusable gloves still practical, or are there compostable options on the horizon that can be considered?

We welcome your insights in addressing why non-compostable gloves end up in the food scrap pile, and welcome collaboration with the industry to keep them out.  Composters everywhere thank our valued chefs and the food preparation industry for your support and awareness in tackling this issue in an effort to keep compost feedstocks clean, and the composting industry more sustainable through better sorting.

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