Single-use “disposable” gloves and aprons have been used for ten years or more in day nurseries, to avoid cross contamination between children, and between children and staff; excellent, valid reasons and as many colleagues in the sector have been using protective clothing of this sort since initial training, their use is ingrained and managed effectively.
However, times change, and we now know the damage we are doing to the environment, so we need to take the time to reflect and consider whether they are essential and whether any alternatives are acceptable.
Actually the skin on our hands is very resistant to infection, and as long as skin is intact, i.e no cuts or abrasions, and as long as hands are washed properly between every change there is no evidence of any infection risk to adults or children, plus some people are allergic or intolerant to latex. Most adults changing nappies at home for their own children or relatives children have never worn gloves or aprons for nappy changing, including those professionals working in the sector when “at home”.
However, if adult hands are injured, or the child or adult is identified as particularly high risk (aids or hepatitis) and the adult is vulnerable (not inoculated against hepatitis or polio), or perhaps for a particularly messy poo, the option of wearing one glove should, in my opinion, be present.
Organic single-use disposable & biodegradable gloves are available, made from plant-based PLA, a material produced from corn starch. The material is transparent and very thin so you can move your fingers freely. The plant-based material will dissolve at above 40°C temperature – so don’t throw them in the bin for landfill as that might not get them hot enough – and certainly don’t allow them to escape into the water, but also watch out if you have hot hands!
We did consider gloves for multiple use, but these present an increased risk of cross infection due to bacteria perhaps remaining on them – its actually easier to wash hands properly than wash gloves in between use. Hospitals do NOT use multiple use gloves, such as marigolds, but many do not use gloves at all, even in blood donating units, unless there is a specific risk, ie barrier nursing in place.
Marigold type gloves can be used for washing up after craft and food preparation if needed to protect from the hot water and staining, but rather than buying ordinary marigold types, try gloves such as Green Tips household gloves, which are made from 100% FSC certified rubber which means that when you make a hole in them or they start to break down, you can cut them up and add to your compost bin, or leave them in a hot sunny place, like a greenhouse and eventually they will become stiff, dry out and crumble into component latex parts
Ofsted inspectors and the HSE have confirmed on several occasions during 2018 that provided hands are washed properly between nappy changes that they are happy that this is effective protection against cross contamination and infection and several of the other mid sized chains such as Tops Day Nurseries and Kids Allowed, and many stand alone/small groups of more environmentally aware nurseries have stopped one use gloves and aprons in general use.
Single-use aprons are even less necessary than gloves and we do not order any more at all now. If colleagues are concerned about being sprayed or sprinkled with urine during a nappy change they need to pay more attention to avoid that (watch for the warning signs, and place nappy in appropriate area to block the spray) and/or wear an apron that they can wipe down or wash between changes if this happens, which is easier and quicker than changing clothes.
Plastic one-use aprons are certainly not necessary for food service either, but again if you have children inclined to throw food or projectile vomit you might want to wear washable overalls, aprons or tabards to protect your clothes and prevent cross contamination when handling other children. At Tops we bought some attractive pink fabric aprons for general use, and also have some vinyl wipe down/washable aprons available.
In any case, products should be wrapped and delivered in cardboard, NOT in an unmarked crinkly plastic bag that could end up in landfill.
GECCO Founder & Trustee
Cheryl Hadland (MA Ed) is Managing Director of the Hadland Care Group – an umbrella company for Tops Day Nurseries and Aspire Training Team, Bournemouth. In 2018 she was named ‘most influential person in childcare’ at the NMT Top 20 National Nursery awards, and in the same year completed a Sustainable Leadership course at the University of Cambridge. Cheryl is an avid SCUBA diver with many years experience and has seen first-hand the devastating impact of plastic pollution on our oceans and the creatures that inhabit them.