Face Masks Abound, but Disposable Gloves Are Much Harder to Come By

face mask COVID-19 disposable gloves

These are, as we have pointed out in this space before, volatile times in the disposable glove industry.

COVID-19 has demand for disposable gloves (and face masks and all other forms of personal protective equipment) skyrocketing. Glove supply is lagging because factories in Southeast Asia can’t keep up.

World consumption of gloves is estimated to jump substantially, to more than to 330 billion pieces this year, Malaysia’s rubber glove manufacturers association said. The organization expects that demand to spill over into 2021.

Don’t expect relief anytime soon

As a result, gloves are difficult to come by, and prices are rising daily. At AMMEX, we’ve been forced to establish allocation limits that allow us to ensure fair distribution to our customers. We anticipate those will be in place for the next 12 to 18 months, at least.

Why? Because disposable gloves are not easy, quick, or cheap to manufacture.

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its early recommendations and instructed people to wear face masks in public, the rush to make and sell masks has been astonishing. If you are a user of social media, it’s likely you’ve been bombarded with ads for masks, from one-time disposable paper to washable and reusable cloth to full-on plastic shields. Even the CDC itself published guidelines on how to make your own mask at home.

No one, however, is recommending that you build a glove manufacturing plant in your backyard. Or down the block. Or anywhere in your town, for that matter. The logistics and economics make it impossible.

All you need is a lot of sewing machines

The ramp-up time for making more masks is, relatively speaking, quick. Garment producers across Asia switched production from fashion to PPE, and mask availability grew rapidly. Now you can get anything from your favorite sports team to your favorite heavy-metal band to Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” emblazoned across your face. Prices have dropped a bit from a few months ago.

It doesn’t work that way with gloves. The lead time to add capacity is 6 to 12 months. If a factory were to increase its capabilities today, it could very well be 2021 before glove sellers would have additional inventory to sell. In the meantime, it’s likely there would be shortages of raw materials, further backing up the supply chain. That nitrile butadiene rubber doesn’t make itself.

With face masks, both imported and domestically produced, flooding the U.S. market, it’s not the same with gloves. With production slow to ramp up, supply remains constrained. It will be that way for a while, although some experts expect China to retrofit existing factories to increase glove production.

In the meantime, we have to sit tight, wash our hands, and wear our face masks in public. The glove supply will loosen, but not anytime soon.

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