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 which is used so often but hardly considered- glitter. Glitter is used heavily at festivals, colour-themed parties, children’s arts-and-crafts classes, in bath bombs and shimmery body wash, for DIY projects, on gift bags, in phone cases, and so on. But glitters, as beautiful as they are, belong to a dangerous group of plastics known as microplastics.
According to the US National Ocean Service, microplastics are all plastic products that are 5 millimetres in length or smaller, usually the size of a sesame seed6. Microplastics in our oceans are usually the product of larger plastic that we’ve discarded breaking down into small pieces. Glitter, as its already so small, falls under this category, and like other types of debris, often finds its way into aquatic bodies.
Glitters - 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 as 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 mostly affected by microplastics. Beyond the immediate effects of ingestion, these microplastics contain additives like plasticizer and organic pollutants which leech into the water and cause a chemical or toxic effect7. 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 US, New Zealand, Chile, France, and Australia collaborated to provide an estimate of how much microplastics are in our water bodies2. Their data showed that there are more than 5 trillion pieces of microplastics, weighing approximately 269,000 tonnes, 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”4. Rachel Hurley, from the University of Manchester, revealed that according to their data, microplastics have become a global environmental concern. The effects of microplastics in our waters not only threaten aquatic life but the human population. She explained that it is difficult to tell how the plastic might affect us, but they eventually enter our bodies. Considering the amount of toxins which 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 microplastics on the environment, such as the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). However, these efforts are made after the plastic gets into 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 making sure that these plastics never get in the water.
The steps to keeping glitter and other microplastics out of water bodies are quite straightforward, but not so easy to achieve. Like every other global environmental issue, the end to plastic glitter will require a lot of education, convincing, and time. The good news is, 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 glitter is made from plant cellulose (usually the eucalyptus plant) and then dyed with cosmetic grade dyes to provide different colour ranges. With eco-friendly glitter, you can still enjoy some sparkly fun feeling completely guilt-free. There are several brands which 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 that they can't harm marine life.
Plastic glitter is not always obvious. It could be in your makeup, bath bomb, or shower gel, on gift bags, in 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. However, words like ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘biodegradable’ have become marketing terms and brands often use them wrongly, so be sure to do some research on the brand before making that final purchase.
While shopping with friends or planning DIY projects, encourage them to buy eco-friendly glitter instead of the plastic ones. Eco-friendly 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 properly disposed of. Pack the glitter tightly and drop it in a plastic recycle bin. Don't pour the glitter down the toilet or in a sink because it will be pushed directly to the water systems.
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 placed a ban on plastic glitters3, 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.
Founded by two festival hoppers who wanted to keep enjoying glitter-themed events without harming the environment, Eco Glitter Fun is one of the highly recommended brands available. Today, the brand carries 35 different glitter colours (in different 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 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 glitter also comes in a wide variety of colours and sizes to suit each need.
One reason why plastics are in our water bodies is the choice we make 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|
|Evening Standard: 61 UK music festivals are banning glitter. Here's why it's time to switch to biodegradable sparkle|
|TY Jour, Hurley, Rachel, Woodward, Jamie, Rothwell, James J. 2018/04/01 Microplastic contamination of river beds significantly reduced by catchment-wide flooding. Nature Geoscience|
|Erik van Sebille et al. A global inventory of small floating plastic debris 2015 Environ. Res. Lett. 10 124006|
|National Ocean Service: What are microplastics?|
|Zarfl, Fleet, Fries, Galgani. 2011. Microplastics in the ocean. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.02.040.|