The Glow is Coming Off Glitter
As the holiday season approaches, the outlook is
glittery. Everything from Christmas cards and wrappings, to decorations,
clothing, and cosmetics glows with those tiny gold and silver bits of
Unfortunately, these sparkles have a dark side: Glitter
is bad for both our environment and our health.
Most glitter products are made from plastic, which
contributes to the growing problem of
microplastics in the marine
environment. Microplastics include the
microbeads found in cleansers
and even some toothpastes, as well as
microfibers in some clothing.
Glitter is also a microplastic and compounds the problem when it is also
found in cosmetic products marketed to girls and women.
When glitter and other microplastics are washed down
the drain, they are consumed by plankton, fish, and birds. Those beings can
die from starvation when the microplastics accumulate in their systems.
Microplastics can also have a detrimental effect on human health as they
make their way up the food chain; most glitter is made from a type of
plastic called PET (polyethylene
terephthalate), which, when it breaks down, can release chemicals that are
human hormone disruptors. In addition, microplastic particles attract
inorganic and organic chemicals to adhere to them, such as PCBs, which were
banned decades ago but persist in the environment.
To make things worse, most glitter gets its sparkle
from a layer of reflective material, such as aluminum foil. Aluminum is
known to accumulate in the kidneys, brain, lungs, liver, and thyroid where
it competes with calcium for absorption. In infants, this can slow growth.
Research using animals has also linked aluminum exposure to mental
impairments, including dementia.
Since glitter is wildly popular with many little
children, some concern has been expressed about the danger of getting craft
glitter in the eyes where a small particle of the sharp-edged plastic can
scratch the eye and possibly cause infection. (Cosmetic glitter, on the
other hand, is reportedly round-edged.) Also, if enough glitter is in the
air, it could also be inhaled and cause a sinus infection or worse,
according to some doctors.
As a result, some scientists and campaigners are
calling for a total ban on glitter. The UK seems to be taking the lead with
a 2018 ban on microbeads, which included glitter. Over 60 music
festivals in the UK are banning the wearing of glitter at their events, and
some companies have committed to completely removing glitter from their
As consumers, many of us know that we need to choose
more non-toxic, environmentally-friendly products. However, that can be
difficult if such alternatives are not available. A biodegradable,
plastic-free product called “bioglitter” is one such alternative that has
been developed by a small UK company. It’s reportedly made from eucalyptus
tree extract and is aluminum-free.
If you already have glitter in your life, or it comes
into your home along with holidays
gifts, definitely do not wash it down the sink. Could you at least try to reuse it for
future craft projects?
The only way not to add glitter to the
already massive global microplastic problem is to opt for an
eco-friendly alternative. I’m sorry to seem to be taking some of the shine out of
your and your family’s celebrations, but with some research and imagination, you’ll discover that our lives don’t have to
be less sparkly in order to be more environmentally friendly!
Wendy Priesnitz is the founding editor of
Natural Life Magazine, and a writer with over 45 years of experience.