Yes, Glitter Really is Bad for the Environment

When you consider of festive functions or even a notably glamorous brand name of eyeshadow glitter may also appear to thoughts. Every little thing from vacation decorations to greeting playing cards, as properly as makeup and nail polish, are commonly speckled with glitter for a minor further pizzazz. The draw back is that it receives in all places, sticking to unwanted surfaces like skin and outfits, and requires a lot of effort and hard work (and persistence) to take away. 

But glitter isn’t just sparkly and once in a while obnoxious — it’s also bad for the environment. It is difficult to think about Christmas and New Year’s celebrations without the need of the sparkles, but it may possibly be time to rethink our use of glitter.

Glitter is Basically a Microplastic

Microplastics are loosely defined as smaller plastic particles much less than 5 millimeters in dimension. The smaller shards can be introduced into the setting directly, or appear from greater plastic waste that degrades into scaled-down plastic fragments. “There [is] no crisp definition of microplastics, but I would unquestionably take into account glitter to be a microplastic,” claims Joel Baker, a maritime air pollution skilled and environmental scientist at the University of Washington Tacoma. “It’s in the appropriate dimensions variety and has synthetic polymers.”


Browse more: The Battle Versus Microplastics


Glitter is normally made of a plastic termed polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is coated with aluminum to develop a reflective surface area. Some glitter can also be made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), another plastic substance. “Glitter can include any number of supplies that are shiny, highly colored, or iridescent,” states Robert C. Hale, an environmental scientist and professor at the Virginia Institute of Maritime Science. “It can contain other polymer styles moreover PET, and even minerals such as mica.”

Basically put, glitter is a microplastic, much too. And mainly because microplastics are a significant component of world-wide pollution, it is crucial to recognize how they influence human and environmental wellness.

Impacts of Microplastic Air pollution

Microplastics appear in a assortment of products, shapes, and dimensions, and show unique levels of weathering, which usually means it’s tough to build their overall impression, says Hale. Continue to, investigation exhibits that microplastics have been uncovered even in remote locations significantly absent from human exercise. In accordance to a 2019 paper published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, glitter could be a sizeable resource of microplastic in the atmosphere and turn into a hazard to a variety of organisms. The NOAA Maritime Debris Method also mentioned that glitter can lead to maritime particles. 

In the ocean, microplastics can be mistaken for fish eggs and ingested by maritime wildlife. These tiny particles can grow to be trapped in their stomach, leading to malnutrition and body weight decline. They may possibly also induce minimized feeding costs and decrease fees of replica in some species. The degree of these consequences, nevertheless, typically may differ between species and levels of their lifetime cycle.

Regardless, even nevertheless the seafood that we take in is very likely contaminated with microplastics, our dietary exposure to plastic particles is rather lower as opposed to our inhalation of plastic particles. “Personally, I am pretty concerned for human wellness as we reside extra than 90 p.c of our life indoors, or in vehicles, which are basically shut, recirculating containers with enormous amounts of plastics inside,” states Hale. “Plastic is in carpeting, household furniture, paint, insulation, and drugs. It carries our meals and drink, and inside, even our air.”

We are continuously surrounded by plastic, even with popular, every day items these kinds of as baby bottles, toys, organizers, storage bins and food items containers. A 2021 examine printed in Environmental Science & Technological know-how Letters just lately located that the focus of microplastics uncovered in stool samples was appreciably greater amongst infants than adults, suggesting that toddlers are typically uncovered to greater stages of microplastics.

That said, quite minimal is presently acknowledged about the wellness repercussions of substantial and extended-expression publicity to microplastics.  “It is unlikely that ingestion of microplastics would hurt a human as they are as well smaller to block the gastrointestinal tract, but way too massive to go by way of cell partitions,” says Baker. “Very smaller particles, on the scale of nanometers, can go throughout the blood-brain barrier and could result in troubles, but these are orders of magnitude more compact than glitter.”

Nevertheless, it is essential to contemplate not only the bodily effects of microplastics, but also the influence of their chemical additives, claims Hale. Harmful chemical substances included throughout plastic generation are identified to have an effect on human and environmental well being. These additives contaminate soil, air, drinking water, and meals, creating a assortment of clinical situations and impairing immune and reproductive methods. Past that, microplastics can act as magnets and become carriers of harmful environmental pollutants, escalating their general toxicity to the human overall body when ingested.

Greener Alternate options?

Supplied the environmental harm of glitter (and microplastics in normal), numerous businesses have started off producing biodegradable glitters, this kind of as Meadowbrook Inventions and Ronald Britton Ltd. A workforce of researchers from the College of Cambridge also discovered a way to create vegan glitter, getting discovered that nanocrystals from cellulose a purely natural product discovered in the cell partitions in crops, fruits and veggies can bend mild and create vivid colours. 

That explained, these choices are not wholly eco-helpful. A 2020 review printed in the Journal of Hazardous Supplies located that each typical or non-biodegradable PET glitter and alternate glitter created from cellulose or mica can have an affect on aquatic ecosystems.  “We most likely can not prevent contributing [to microplastic pollution], but there are ways to minimize our contributions,” states Hale. “Yes, we can cut down our use of glitter, microbead-made up of products, etc. But these are little, albeit preventable resources.” 

Going without glitter just isn’t a lousy notion, but it might be a sparkly scapegoat for more substantial environmental worries: Hale and Baker both say that most microplastics come from the breakdown of more substantial plastics we use just about every working day, consequently the most eco-welcoming action you can do is to end the avoidable and extreme use of all sorts of plastics. Choose for reusable alternatives, flip down single-use plastics when you can, and keep away from products and solutions with plastic packaging.

“The finest factor to do is to reduce the use of ’single-use’ plastic and to correctly dispose of these that you do use,” says Baker.