If you’ve been reading the news these past few weeks, you may have noticed some emphatic headlines about the need for a global ban on glitter to prevent further pollution of our waters and subsequent glitter dinners for the aquatic life within it.
This issue can be traced back to mid-November when Trisia Farrelly, an environmental lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand called for the ban due to the fact that glitter is a microplastic. Subsequently, one publication after another has picked up on this topic. With all this glittery enthusiasm, I wanted to learn more about what the big deal was all about.
Plastics (i.e. straws, disposable water bottles, plastic shopping bags, dog poop bags, etc.) break down over time because of their chemical composition. They eventually degrade into smaller and smaller fragments over time until you can’t even see them anymore with your naked eye. However, most plastics will never fully disintegrate / biodegrade. When these plastic fragments are less than 5mm long, they are classified as microplastics.
Microplastics end up polluting our waters since they never disintegrate. The immediate problem of this is that these microplastics are often consumed by filter feeders (i.e. oysters, whale sharks, mussels, rays, etc.) who feed by taking in large quantities of water in order to consume the small nutritious foods like zooplankton, while dispelling the excess water. However, scientists do not believe these filter feeders have a way of differentiating between zooplankton and microplastics of similar size. Thus, in addition to polluting our waters with plastic particles that will never disappear, they are finding their way up the food chain and we are actually eating these microplastics ourselves. This is a long-term danger since we don’t really know how all this accumulated plastic in our body will affect us. Kinda scary!
Glitter & Microbeads – 2 Microplastics in the Same Boat
Glitter is the tiny-tiny-tiny pieces of colorful plastic that we use for celebrations, crafts, and to ruin our enemy’s days. The problem is that with it’s tiny size, it’s considered microplastics.
You may remember that microbeads (i.e. popular in face washes, toothpaste, and other personal care product to “exfoliate”) underwent the same scrutiny two years ago. Extensive studies including these , capped by President Barack Obama’s signing of the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 that prohibits selling and distributing products containing microbeads. The government of the United Kingdom and New Zealand followed suit in 2017.
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So we know your standard microplastics glitter is bad. What’s a glitter-loving guy or gal to do now? Here are some options to keep your life glittery (without the environmental harm):
>> Biodegradable Glitter
>> Glittery Bath Time & Beauty Routines
LUSH is a cosmetics company that always seems to be at the forefront of social awareness. Since understand the negative impacts of glitter, they had switched to natural mica. Since being unable to find an ethical supplier for natural mica (free from child labor), they have made the switch to a synthetic mica. And the glitter party continues!
Your Glitter Impact
From a high-level view, glitter is just a minuscule part of our overall plastics problem. Cutting out glitter will probably not make a noticeable dent in the estimated 15 and 51 trillion microplastic particles (estimate as of 2014) sitting in our waters. However, glitter ultimately is something that we simply do not need and it seems crazy that we would create microplastics on purpose when we already have such a microplastics problem.
So I’d say that unless it brings you immense joy and happiness, I’d ask you to consider refraining from using glitter knowing that it is not good for the environment. However, we are human and imperfect, so if you must use it once in a while in a sporadic frenzy of celebratory revelry, please consider minimizing your plastics footprint in another area of your life that day. Or consider making your own eco-friendly glitter out of Epsom salts and food coloring!
Personally, I’m glad that the issue is having its moment in the spotlight. I personally am not a fan of glitter, but now knowing more about the whole microplastics issue, my new knowledge will definitely find it’s way into my life. I was never a big glitter enthusiast, but now I’ll be reminded of this issue when I do see glitter. The next time I buy ornaments for my Christmas tree, instead of thinking “Oh, those colorful decorations are so glittery and sparkly – I’ll get those”, I’ll be like “Skipping the glitter for today! I’ll get these just as delightful decorations and not harm the planet as much.”
I’m a true believer that small changes can have rippling positive impacts.