Glitters are fun for everyone except the aquatic animals who eventually ingest them. Choose eco-friendly glitter this festival and summer season to do your bit to prevent plastic pollution.
When we discuss the impact of plastics on our environment, it's easy to think of the obvious guilts; plastic bags, straws, coffee cups, and other daily-use plastics. However, there's one plastic product we might use so often but hardly consider - glitter.
Glitter is used heavily at festivals, color-themed parties, children's arts-and-crafts classes, wrapping paper, bath bombs, balloon alternatives and party decorations, shimmery body wash, DIY projects, gift bags, phone cases, and so on. But glitters, as beautiful as they are, belong to a dangerous group of plastics known as microplastics.
The steps to keeping regular glitter and other microplastics out of water bodies are pretty straightforward but not so easy to achieve. Like every other global environmental issue, the end to plastic-based glitter will require a lot of education, convincing, and time.
The good news is that ending plastic glitter use is an action that starts with each individual. For everyone who decides to stop using plastic glitter, our waters become a safer place for marine life. So here's what you can start doing from today!
Eco-friendly biodegradable glitter is made from plant cellulose (usually the eucalyptus plant) and then dyed with cosmetic grade dyes to provide different color ranges. With eco-friendly glitter, sometimes also called bio glitter, you can still enjoy some sparkly fun, feeling completely guilt-free.
Several brands make eco-friendly glitter for makeup, arts & crafts, and your party and festival needs. You can throw up as many handfuls of eco-friendly glitter as you want, knowing your guilt-free sparkles can't harm marine life.
Plastic glitter is not always obvious. It could be in your makeup, bath bomb, shower gel, gift bags, phone cases, and so on. If you're planning to buy a product with glitter in it, ensure that they are of the biodegradable kind. If the glitter is biodegradable, there should be some information regarding that on the packaging.
Also, watch out for mica glitter, where you'll find both natural and synthetic versions of mica, that give cosmetics some of their shine, both come with pros and cons. Natural mica is mined and has been associated with various ethical problems across the supply chain, while synthetic mica has been shown to not demonstrate much improvement, if any, over plastic glitters.
However, words like 'eco-friendly' and 'biodegradable' have become marketing terms. Brands often use them wrongly, so be sure to research the brand before making that final purchase to avoid greenwashing. To shop for genuinely eco-friendly glitter you need to ensure that so-called biodegradable glitter does, in fact, degrade in the natural environment.
While shopping with friends or planning DIY projects, encourage them to buy eco-friendly glitter instead of plastic conventional glitter. Buying biodegradable glitter is just as shiny and durable as plastic glitter, with the added benefit of removing the potential harm to aquatic life.
If you still have some plastic glitter lying around, that's okay. All you have to do is ensure that it is correctly disposed of. Pack the glitter tightly and drop it in a plastic recycle bin. Don't pour the glitter down the toilet or sink because you will push it directly into the water system.
Beyond eco-conscious individuals, festival organizers are also learning of the impact of each event loaded with plastic glitters on the environment. In the UK, 61 festivals have banned plastic glitters, effective 2021. However, you don't have to wait until then to start making the right choices.
As you prepare for the coming party and festival season, here is a list of the top recommended biodegradable glitter brands to make the switch easier for you. These glitter companies specialize in the eco-friendly qualities of their glitter and transparently talk about the materials and qualities they use during manufacture for environmentally friendly use.
Founded by two festival hoppers who wanted to keep enjoying glitter-themed events without harming the environment, Eco Glitter Fun is one of the most recommended brands. Clearly, they take their eco-friendly credentials seriously and have chosen to license materials that break down in the natural environment. Some compostable glitter brands require industrial facilities if you dig deeper, whereas Eco Glitter Fun's plant-based glitter just needs water.
Today, the brand carries 35 different glitter colors (in various sizes) for makeup, crafts, and festival needs. The glitter also comes in non-plastic packaging.
This brand was started after its founder threw a glitter-themed birthday party, and found out, post-party, of the impact her action would have on marine life. Instead of curbing her love for glitter, she decided to seek out an eco-friendly alternative.
The EcoStardust biodegradable glitter brand currently carries craft-size chunky glitter to ultrafine makeup glitter. They particularly boast of their glitter shine, claiming that their eco-friendly glitter is just as shiny as the plastic ones.
A US-based glitter brand, Today glitter offers biodegradable glitter products in both retail and wholesale sizes. If you're looking to make your own DIY beauty products, this glitter can be mixed with water, alcohol, oil, and soap. Their alternative glitters also come in various colors and sizes to suit each need.
According to the US National Ocean Service, microplastics are all plastic products that are 5 millimeters in length or smaller4, usually the size of a sesame seed5. Microplastics in our oceans are generally the product of larger plastic that we've discarded, breaking down into small pieces. As it's already so small, Glitter falls under this category and, like other types of debris, often finds its way into aquatic bodies.
Glitter - and other microplastics - are particularly dangerous because they're too small to be caught using the general plastic filtering systems. Basically, once they're in the water, that's it. Aquatic animals and birds can easily mistake these shiny pieces for food and ingest them. Filter feeders (such as clams, krill, and sponges) and other marine animals located at the bottom of the food chain are affected mainly by microplastics.
Beyond the immediate effects of ingestion, these microplastics contain additives like plasticizers and pollutants, which leech into the water and cause a chemical or toxic effect. Plastic also attracts toxins once it gets into water bodies1, acting as a magnet for oily pollutants and toxic chemicals such as triclosan.
In 2014, scientists from the US, New Zealand, Chile, France, and Australia collaborated to estimate how much microplastics are in our water bodies2. Their data showed that more than 5 trillion pieces of microplastics, weighing approximately 269,000 tonnes, are floating in our water bodies.
After extensive research using more data from other regions, such as the UK, a new research team has discovered that 5 trillion is a "gross underestimation."3 Rachel Hurley from the University of Manchester revealed that according to their data, microplastics had become a global environmental concern.
Microplastics' effects in our waters threaten aquatic life and the human population. She explained that it is difficult to tell how plastic might affect us, but it eventually enters our bodies. Considering the number of toxins that plastics contain and attract, we should be more concerned about the issue of microplastics.
Government bodies have been taking actions to curb the impact of small plastics like glitter on the environment, such as the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). However, these efforts are made after the plastic gets into the water, and as we established earlier, microplastics are not so easy to filter out because of their minute size.
The more practical solution to microplastics in our oceans and other marine bodies would be to ensure that these plastics never get in the water.
One reason plastics are in our water bodies is our choice as individuals and consumers. Like every other product which has become an integral part of our activities, plastic glitter is expected to stick around for some time.
While festivals and government bodies are targeting bans years from now, we can start making the needed changes today. With eco-friendly glitter options, we can make the switch and enjoy as much sparkly fun as we want, completely guilt-free.
|Mark Anthony Browne, Stewart J. Niven, Tamara S. Galloway, Steve J. Rowland, Richard C. Thompson. Microplastic Moves Pollutants and Additives to Worms, Reducing Functions Linked to Health and Biodiversity. Current Biology, 2013; 23 (23): 2388 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.10.012|
|Eriksen M, Lebreton LCM, Carson HS, Thiel M, Moore CJ, Borerro JC, et al. (2014) Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea. PLoS ONE 9(12): e111913. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0111913|
Hurley, R., Woodward, J. & Rothwell, J.J. Microplastic contamination of river beds significantly reduced by catchment-wide flooding. Nature Geosci 11, 251–257 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0080-1
|National Ocean Service: What are microplastics?|
|National Ocean Service: What are microplastics?|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.