During this coronavirus pandemic much more waste is being produced in new areas, such as single use medical type products. As we are unsure of the level of contamination of potentially infected surfaces many more people are wearing disposable gloves. Droplets from coughs, sneezes or even talking could land on surfaces, where it may stay for some time. Therefore we have been advised to wash our hands for 20 seconds frequently and to avoid touching our faces as this is one of the most likely ways of infection.
Disposable gloves are a way to project your skin and make you feel safer. However, they may give a false sense of security. When wearing gloves you are still at risk of coming in contact with the virus, which could then be spread if you touch other things with the gloves. It is also important to dispose of these gloves safely, to avoid touching your skin with the gloves, especially without washing yourself afterwards. There is also the risk of keeping them on for a long period of time without cleaning them, which could therefore spread the virus when touching objects such as door handles, or during activities such as shopping.
There are different types of gloves on the market. Latex gloves are in fact biodegradable, although remember biodegradable doesn’t always mean good, as it could take a long time to decompose properly and needs to be disposed of correctly. Although latex gloves feel like plastic the material is obtained from the bark of rubber trees. Many people are also allergic to latex, so it is important to be careful when using them, to make sure that your skin is happy and healthy.
Other types of gloves include nitrile, which is made of an extremely elastic synthetic rubber. This type of glove is good for maximum protection and is made from an organic compound. But it cannot be recycled and must be disposed of in the undifferentiated dry product waste. While single-use vinyl gloves are chemically produced, and are disposed of differently. This type of glove is dangerous for the environment and human health, therefore it cannot be put in landfill or incinerators. The PVC in the gloves is made partly of chlorine molecules which create highly toxic carcinogens when combusted.
The best way to be as safe as possible and reduce the risk of infection or spreading the virus is through hand washing. Many people however are using hand sanitiser, this is because of its ease of use. If outside it can become difficult to wash your hands throughout the day, which is why hand sanitizer could be used to ensure that you are cleaning your hands as often as needed. It is suggested that in order for the virus to be killed from your skin you need hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of at least 60%. Most alcohol based hand sanitiser gels used either ethanol or isopropanol. These are effective in killing the virus in large enough quantities but the repeated use of these alcohols can irritate and damage the skin on your hands. People with eczema also suffer when using these as it can dry and crack hands, making them raw and sore. When using hand sanitiser it is also important to use a lot of the gel to make sure your whole hand surface is covered. This in turn could result in a large amount of plastic waste due to hand sanitiser generally coming in smaller plastic bottles which are easy to carry. Also, if your hands are dirty or sweaty it may not work as well.
If using hand sanitiser frequently you must make sure you are taking care of your hands. Using a thick moisturiser or hand balm. It is especially important to use a hand balm without alcohol. Our hand balm contains natural skin-softening emollients, seaweed and geranium extracts which gently encourage the skin to repair and provide essential vitamins for replenishing damaged skin cells. Alcohol-free hand sanitisers can be gentler on the skin, but contain benzalkonium chloride or chlorhexidine digluconate which research has shown are less effective in deactivating viruses. But there is still research to be done on their impact on coronavirus.
As we are now home more often due to self-isolation/lockdown we are able to wash our hands more often. By doing this instead of using hand sanitiser you are not damaging your hands as much, and also saving on waste. Washing your hands can protect you from the virus as well as stopping the spread. Coronavirus has a protective outer layer known as a lipid bilayer. The molecules on the outer layer arrange themselves in two layers with the hydrophobic tail pointing inwards, and the hydrophilic round heads pointing outwards. These heads are very sticky, meaning that they stay on your hands. But soap molecules also have this tadpole structure. When you wash your hands with soap the hydrophobic tail will cling to the oil, and the hydrophilic head will stick to the water. The coronavirus molecules on the outer layer are attracted to the soap molecules due to their similarity. This then disrupts the outer layer around the virus, dissolving it in the water and killing the virus.
Washing your hands continuously can be drying as water can actually dry out your skin if not used in conjunction with a moisturiser. Also many hand soaps still contain alcohol. Although it may seem like you need strong hand soap to prevent the virus, any type of hand soap will work to break down the molecules. Liquid and solid soaps can be used as their mechanism is the same. Liquid soaps may be easier to use during the virus but either is successful in helping break down the virus. Our Bladderwrack + Fennel Hand Cleanser is a cleansing gel that contains naturally sourced anti-bacterial botanicals and local seaweed extract that contains vitamin B and sodium which repairs damaged skin cells and helps to rehydrate dry skin.
The best thing you can do is to avoid touching as many surfaces as possible. But this can be difficult and unsafe when doing things, such as travelling. Therefore many people have come up with solutions from household objects. Some people have been seen using plungers on their commute to avoid touching handles to stay steady, while others are using objects they have on them to touch buttons and open doors. A solution could be finding things that you have with you to do these every day activities. But one product you could purchase is a multifunctional tool such as Handy by Matteo Zallio, or Hygiene Hand by StatGear which is made from antimicrobial brass. These types of objects may be seen more and more as our way of life changes. Even though the virus may begin to die out, our new ways of staying clean and conscious will change our habits.
What the Future May Look Like
As people are becoming more environmentally conscious as we adapt to these times, there will be a constant search for more sustainable alternatives. Natural disinfectants could help the plant by using less harsh chemicals which will not get put into our water system. But what will the future look like? Scientists are researching how we can take inspiration and work with nature. Biomimetics looks at phenomenons in nature as inspiration to create new innovations to improve functionality. Superhydrophobic surfaces are self-cleaning, meaning that they repel droplets and push them off their surfaces in order to stay clean, and is found in some animals and plants such as lotus leaves. The nanostructuring of these surfaces is what gives them this effect, as well as their chemistry. The surfaces form crystal structures which cover another textured layer of cells or hairs to create air pockets. The droplet sits on top of the trapped air and this drastically reduces the contact between solid and liquid, so it therefore rolls off. We may see new surfaces being put on public spaces and medical environments in the future that use this style of technology. So that they become safer and easier to clean.