Who knew glitter could be harmful? But it can


Making Ripples

This is a glittery season, with sparkly ornaments, cards, lights and stars twinkling in a clear night sky. Glitter accompanies the art supplies in craft arsenals, and it’s really fun (and messy) to apply. But did you know that this seemingly innocuous substance was a microplastic hurting the oceans, and that there is indeed such a thing as alternative glitter?

Glitter is made of Mylar, a type of polymer. These particles are so small that they look like food to fish and other aquatic life. Glitter-eating organisms are then eaten by bigger and bigger fish, until they become sparkly fish sticks for humans. A diet of itty bitty plastic does not make healthy marine animals, but some of them prefer eating microplastic to their typical diet! True, glitter is only one contributing source of plastic, but it’s a better idea to continue carrying reusable water bottles and so on, as well as to stop using glitter, rather than to keep using glitter and every other tiny harmful thing just because they are small. Together, these products are part of a whole picture of single-use plastics, and the picture is already improving.

A ban on glitter has been gradually taking place as more people become aware of the problem. In 2017, a UK chain of nurseries banned glitter from children’s crafts to help protect the environment. It’s also been banned at music festivals and parades in various parts of the world, including Burning Man. The Richmond City Arts Centre in British Columbia, Canada, implemented a glitter ban last summer. In 2015, the United States passed the federal Microbead Free Waters Act prohibiting plastic beads in cosmetics (which does not include glitter) but so far it doesn’t seem like a glitter ban is trending with Americans.

Luckily, alternative glitters are available, and come with pros and cons. Because biodegradable glitters are made with less aluminum (BioGlitz brand only uses 0.1 percent) it doesn’t stick to things all over your house, making cleanup easier and less messy. Naturally, though, it will biodegrade; if you mix it with liquids (or add to a compost pile) in a few weeks it will break down and be less shiny, making cosmetic application difficult but not impossible. The glitter is simply mixed into body products at the last minute rather than adding it to the container. It also costs more than cheap plastic glitter. BioGlitz.co (no “m”) is compostable, renewable and not tested on animals. It’s created from eucalyptus tree extract and comes in various colors and glass bottle sizes.

How do you know if glitter is biodegradable or made from plastic? It’s tricky, but according to GlitterRevolution.com, biodegradable glitter is only made in the shape of hexagons because it’s more stable than irregular shapes like hearts and stars. So if you see eco-friendly products with glitter particles that aren’t hex shaped, it’s probably greenwashing.

What do we do with glitter already bought and kept at home or businesses? Keeping it out of the water and soil is key, which means not wearing it or letting it blow away in the wind. Once you run out, if possible, try one of the glitter alternatives and see what you think!

Amanda Bancroft is a writer, artist, and naturalist living in an off-grid tiny house on Kessler Mountain. She and her husband Ryan blog about their adventures and offer tips to those wanting to make a difference at www.RipplesBlog.org.

Categories: Making Ripples