How can a sparkle be harmful?
By Hailey Dittman
Glitter has made its way everywhere - even here. Is it bad for the environment?
So inherently beautiful, those little sparkly bits that illuminate surfaces. Traditionally used in arts and crafts, glitter has made its way into cosmetics and the decor of our favorite places. Even when we don't see glitter everyday (or at all) we sometimes find a piece in our hair, on our face, on the bed or floor, virtually anywhere possible. Remember that friend's festival costume last year? Or that card you received for your birthday months ago? No? Well, here lays a speck of it still circulating within your space. Have you ever gotten a piece in your eye? RIP. If these sparkling microplastics are permeating our daily life even with very little to no interaction with it, what is it doing to the Earth’s soil and waterways?
The concern has been rising in recent years, and research is just now being collected to understand the impact. Due to this rising concern, we have seen a rise in biodegradable, cellulose-based glitters. Although safer than the conventional glitter, we still don’t know very much about it. Conventional glitter is typically made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is essentially a type of engineered plastic made of tiny fibers. As you may already know, this material never decomposes and is insoluble in water. Glitter can often be found in makeup, lotions, and many products that at the end of the day get washed down the drain. Plastic is the most abundant form of litter in our oceans and Great Lakes. In this way, cellulose-based glitters are a great and immediate solution to this issue that only grows each and every day.
A deeper quest for knowledge reveals that there are consequences from the presence of any form of glitter in our waterways. Pubmed states that both “conventional and alternative glitters” can cause ecological impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Although less microplastics will end up in the bodies of fish and other organisms, the presence of additional materials - cellulose based or not- in waterways has an impact on the growth and development of the roots and overall size of aquatic plants. It was also noted in the study that there was less chlorophyll overall in water with any type of glitter present.
The Impact of Glitter
As for soil? Microplastics unleash toxic chemicals for up to a thousand years past their end-use date. These chemicals alter the overall composition of soil and can directly affect its fertility. Soil is the foundation for which roots sprout and necessary life is formed. The importance of fertile, nourishing soil can not be underestimated. Alternative glitter is a winner in this realm due to it’s low, almost non-existent impact at the ground level.
This brings us back to a common theme - conscious consumption is our future. The future is now. With this information available to us, we are able to enjoy glitter while doing our part to avoid the negative consequences it presents, like it getting washed down the drain. It is important to understand that even “biodegradable” glitter does not decompose naturally in any given environment, it requires specific temperatures and conditions in order to do so. How does the festival and gathering community address glitter use? By adopting Leave no Trace principle, matter out of place (MOOP), and always making sure your adornment is well secured.
Please review our Earth Safety Tips for Using Bio-based Glitter Products:
Use a form of base or primer to secure your glitter
Apply firmly and securely
Finish with a setting spray
- Remove glitter with a tissue or paper towel and throw it safely in the compost
- When tossing in the trash, place glitter and remover into a sealed jar or bag to ensure it doesn’t end up in waterways
- Remove or forego face/hair glitter when you know you are going to get wet
- Do NOT flush down the toilet or wash entirely down the drain
- If you have an excess amount of glitter, consider donating it to a school program for use in arts and crafts