Is it time for a worldwide glitter ban?

Everyone loves the sparkle of glitter, especially at Christmas, but whilst these shiny bits of plastic are perfect for decorating Christmas cards and baubles, not to mention ourselves and our party outfits, there are growing concerns about the effect they’re having upon the environment. After the Tops Day chain of nurseries across southern Britain decided not to include glitter in their craft activities, Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist at Massey University, New Zealand, has called for a global ban to be placed on the use of glitter. “All glitter should be banned because it’s microplastic and all microplastics leak into the environment.”

The problem with microplastics

Microplastics are bits of plastic that are less than five millimeters in length, and they have been found throughout the world’s oceans. According to a 2014 study, there’s an estimated 268,940 tons worth of plastic floating in the oceans, with microplastics making up 92.4% of the total count. A wide range of marine creatures, including plankton, fish, shellfish, and seabirds, mistake microplastics for food. These tiny bits of plastic accumulate in animals’ stomachs. This can cause them to die of starvation. A study by Richard Thompson, a professor of marine biology at Plymouth University, revealed that plastics can be found in a third of all fish caught in the UK.

Two of the major sources of microplastics are the degraded particles of discarded plastics, broken down by UV rays and wave action, and the microbeads used in many cosmetic products. In an attempt to reduce the amount of microplastics in the oceans, many countries, including the UK, the US, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands, have introduced bans on the use of microbeads in cosmetics. 

Glitter consists of fragments of a polymer called polyethylene terephthalate (PET), trade name Mylar, and it is typically less than 1mm in length. Whilst there is no concrete evidence of the effects of glitter in particular, it is a microplastic, just like microbeads, and every flake of it that gets washed down our drains is added to the rest of the plastic that is already in the oceans. Banning glitter, it is felt, would be a further step towards the goal of clean seas.

What can we do?

The main thing that we, as consumers, can do is to no longer buy glitter or products that contain it. To some people this, at first, may sound unpleasant – a life without glitter would be a dull one. But plastic glitter is not the only type available. A number of eco-friendly, biodegradable products have become available in recent years. Cosmetics products from Lush contain synthetic mica – created to mimic natural mica and to have no negative effects on the environment. Companies such as Eco Glitter Fun, Glitter Revolution and EcoStardust offer fully compostable glitter, made out of plant based materials.

A final thing that you can do is to add your name to a petition calling for the banning of glitter in the UK. If plastic glitter is no longer produced, then it can no longer make its way into the natural environment.