Regular glitter is plastic!
After it was accidentally invented in 1934 by Henry Ruschmann, glitter has exploded in the craft and makeup industries, causing many an arduous vacuuming-up over the years. Heedless of the potential mess, many of us can’t get enough of anything delightfully shimmery, shiny and sparkly, and glittery cosmetics such as those used heavily at raves and music festivals are no exception.
Sadly, our soft spot for sparkle comes at an environmental cost. Similarly to the current phasing out of microbeads around the world, with the UK and US already successfully outlawing them, scientists are calling for a ban on glitter. Made of tiny pieces of plastic, glitter is entering our waterways where fish are mistaking it for food.
Microplastics make up 92.4 per cent of the plastic floating around in the ocean and take thousands of years to disintegrate. Once they enter the food chain they end up being eaten by humans, and a disturbing amount can also be found in our drinking water. Scientists are still investigating how this affects our brain function and breathing, but many would like to see glitter made of these plastics taken off the market before the full extent of the damage is known.
Anas Ghadouani, a Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Western Australia, argues plastic has been a wonderful innovation for modern applications such as producing convenient and hygienic medical equipment, but we need to reconsider the production and disposal of microplastics such as glitter so it doesn’t end up in our waterways and eventually the ocean and the food chain.
Image credit: https://glitterazzi.me
“It ends up in the shower, and then it washes off to our water system,” Ghadouani says. “It’s in the drainage system, the urban water, the waste-water treatment. It’s everywhere – the drinking water as well. There’s no doubt there.”
While the jury is still out on the exact health implications of ingesting all this microplastic, Ghadouani isn’t keen to hang around to find out exactly how it’s harming us. “Do I want to wait until someone demonstrates that microplastics in my brain are dangerous? I just don’t want microplastics in my body because they don’t belong there.”
Ghadouani doesn’t want to put a dampener on everyone’s party plans, but he’s keen to see us move from glitter made from microplastic into more sustainable versions so we can have our caked-on sparkle and not eat it too. “People need to be able to have fun and be colourful, but we just need to rethink plastic,” he says.
Fortunately, eco-friendly alternatives are emerging in the Australian market. A variety of "bio-glitters" have been created, made from ingredients such as (real and synthetic) mica and eucalyptus cellulose.
She also recommends gently encouraging your favourite beauty brands to move towards sustainable glitter by engaging with them in a conversation about it. In this way, customers can contribute to a groundswell of support for brands to adopt biodegradable materials in their product ranges. “Definitely asking them about it on social media is a great way, just politely asking ‘Do you have a sustainable version?’”
Image credit: https://glitterazzi.me
Where to buy eco-friendly glitter now:
* Glitter Girl has a large offering of young-at-heart pastel-coloured glitters with playful product names such as “Velveteen Rabbit” and “Bluebell Sparkle Tail”. They are cruelty-free, compostable and biodegradable.
* Glitter Haven offers an impressive collection of glitters, including biodegradable varieties, in a wide range of colours.
* Glitterazzi’s Bio-glitter product is made out of cellulose derived from eucalyptus and is bio-degradable and compostable. Available at selected Dangerfield stores nationally.
* Project Glitter based in Western Australia specialises in glitter application for festivals and events, and stocks a range of biodegradable glitters and accessories in its online shop.