- Gary Wolstenholme / Getty
- Most glitter products are made from plastic, which contributes to the growing problem of microplastics in the environment.
- Microplastics are consumed by plankton, fish, and birds, and have a detrimental impact. Animals often die because of the build up in their systems.
- Some research has also found that PET, the plastic most glitter is made from, can break down and release chemicals that can disrupt human and animal hormones.
- As a result, some scientists and campaigners are calling for a total ban on glitter.
- Festivals in the UK and some companies have already committed to banning glitter.
You can probably remember the joy when you were allowed to get the glitter out at school. There’s a sense of fun and nostalgia about the sparkly stuff that reminds us of being young when we paint our faces with it at festivals and concerts.
But glitter is also terrible for the environment.
Most glitter products are made from plastic, which is a huge problem for marine life. When glitter is washed down the drain, it becomes part of the growing problem of “microplastics,” which are consumed by plankton, fish, and birds, and have a detrimental impact.
Animals die from starvation when microplastics collect in their systems, and the material can even make its way up the food chain to end up on our plates.
A study from last year, published in the journal Geochemical Perspectives, found that microplastics have even reached the deepest point of the ocean, Challenger Deep, in the western Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench.
Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist at Massey University, told the Independent in 2017 that all glitter should be banned because it’s microplastic.
“When people think about glitter they think of party and dress-up glitter,” she said. “But glitter includes cosmetic glitters as well, the more everyday kind that people don’t think about as much.”
In her research, Farrelly found that PET, the plastic most glitter is made from, can break down and release chemicals that can disrupt human and animal hormones.
- Owl Stories / Getty
Some brands and companies have started to take action in the past couple of years. In 2018, 61 British music festivals said they would ban attendees from wearing glitter, and cosmetics brand Lush replaced glitter in bath products with biodegradable substitutes. Some supermarkets like Waitrose and Aldi also committed to removing glitter from their products.
Mica was a potential glitter alternative, which is a natural occurring mineral that shimmers. But it was soon found out that the majority of mica came from illegal Indian mines that were using child labor. As a result, Lush came up with a synthetic mica, which the company claims is not harmful to the environment.
Farrelly said it often comes down to consumers choosing more environmentally friendly products, but it can be impossible if the changes don’t come from the companies.
“Producers need to be responsible,” she said. “They need to use safer, non-toxic, durable alternatives.”
The campaign group 38 Degrees has just launched a petition addressed to UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove, which calls for a total ban of glitter in the UK. The letter references a study that found a third of fish caught in the North Sea contained micro-plastic particles.
“We have no idea what long term effects micro-plastic will have on us, our children or the other animals and plants that share our planet,” the letter says. “This is a very disturbing thought. Next time you eat something, what will you think?”
It adds that banning these microplastics in the UK would be a step in the right direction, and would send a clear message to other countries that it’s a global concern.
“I think we need to do everything we can to stop using any plastics that can pollute the environment,” it says. “We need to do this as soon as possible, before it’s too late and everything gets contaminated.”