As we inch closer toward fulfilling the prediction of more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050, every bit we keep out counts – even glitter.
Little did most of us know those tiny, shiny metallic specks are made of aluminum and a plastic called PET. When PET breaks down it releases chemicals that disrupt hormones in animals and humans and that are linked with various cancers and neurological diseases.
Like microbeads found in bath gels and face scrubs, body glitter and other cosmetics containing glitter are being washed down the drain. From there much of it escapes through water filtration systems, enters natural waterways and eventually ends up in the ocean.
Though they may seem small and insignificant, microplastics — pieces of plastic 5 mm or less — are the most dangerous kind of plastic in many ways, as they are harder to clean up and more likely to be ingested by sea-life.
Some estimate the number of microplastics in the ocean at up to 51 trillion fragments, representing almost a third of all the plastic in the ocean by volume. One study estimates seafood eaters ingest up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic per year.
For this reason the United States and several other countries have banned the use of microbeads in personal care products. Scientists and environmentalists are now calling for glitter to be added to that ban.
Dr Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist at Massey University, told The Independent she thinks all plastic-containing glitter should be banned.
“When people think about glitter they think of party and dress-up glitter,” said Dr Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist at Massey University. “But glitter includes cosmetic glitters as well, the more everyday kind that people don’t think about as much.”
Some are proposing eco-friendly, biodegradable glitter as a solution.
The cosmetics chain Lush has replaced glitter in its products with synthetic, biodegradable alternatives in a move praised by Dr. Sue Kinsey, senior pollution policy officer at the Marine Conservation Society.
But Dr. Ferrelly doesn’t trust other companies to follow-suit and is calling for government intervention.
“I’m sick and tired of consumers being help responsible for trying to avoid this stuff. I mean it’s literally impossible to,” Ferrelly said. “Producers need to be responsible. They need to use safer, non-toxic, durable alternatives.”
A group of childcare centers responsible for 2,500 children in England decided they didn’t have to wait for a government ban. They took matters into their own hands, just in time for Christmas. This year their crafts will be made with lentils and other natural decorations.