All That Glitters is…Not Good for the Environment?

Splendour in the Grass is coming…and it’s bringing a dumpster-load of glitter with it. Adorning thyself with glitter has become so synonymous with music festivals that it’s become a bit of a cultural phenomenon. Festival goers are becoming increasingly creative in the ways they glitterfy themselves (um… hello ‘glitter butts’?), and as they say, go big or go home.

But, before you drown yourself in that wretched sparkly substance, it might be worth thinking about its impact on the environment. In case you need a refresher, those tiny pieces of glimmering ‘goodness’ are made of aluminium foil, or more often, plastic. Plastic, as we all know, is severely detrimental to the environment and marine life in particular. Recently, environmental pollution research has shifted to microplastics (a category that very much includes glitter), with studies examining its occurrence in the marine environment substantially increasing. It’s an inconvenient truth, but yes, something as beautiful as glitter really can have ugly effects.

What are microplastics and how are they harmful to the environment?

Microplastics are considered to be any plastic particles smaller than five millimetres in diameter. Some microplastics are manufactured to be that small (often made for consumer products), while others are generated through the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic. Microplastics have been accumulating in our oceans for at least the past forty years, where they are mistakenly ingested by a variety of marine life. Not only is the ingestion of microplastics bad because they do not decompose in the body, but they also act as a magnet for toxic waterborne pollutants. It’s clear that the effects are detrimental to marine life, but there’s the potential for these plastics and toxic pollutants to then enter the food chain and accumulate until they reach us in our next meal… That’s one reason to go vegan then, I guess?

Microplastics can be introduced into the ocean when larger plastic litter (which themselves can cause the injury and death of marine birds and fish among other harmful effects) degrade, or via direct runoff. Microbeads used in cosmetic exfoliants are an example of direct runoff into the ocean and waterways.  These tiny plastic fragments simply get washed down the drain – but it’s the only way to get smooth skin, right? Wrong! With so many natural exfoliating options available, there’s no reason to needlessly use plastic. As a result, many countries around the world have banned microbeads, including Australia, which is in the process of phasing them out. So we’ve come to our senses about microbeads, but what about glitter?

Glitter is in everything though, surely it’s not so bad?

Glitters are literally mass-produced nanoparticles of plastic and are impossible to clean up! We all know that darned stuff sticks to everything and wearing it for one event will have you picking it off yourself and out of your hair for days.

Now imagine it in the ocean. So yes – it really is that bad, and many are arguing that it should be banned. With other single use plastics like plastic bags and microbeads being banned, it only makes sense, right? The only issue is that glitter really is in a lot of consumer products, and it’s only getting more popular. Just look at the beauty world where glitter is a massive makeup trend. It’s in your eye shadow, liquid lipsticks and face highlighters – and that’s just the makeup where it actually has the purpose of being sparkly and pretty. Don’t get me started on the products where the glitter is redundant… A glittery sunscreen called Unicorn Snot actually exists (yes, Unicorn Snot), and Glamglow’s Glitter Mask has glitter with no skincare benefit whatsoever, and literally just gets washed down the sink.

But how can I live out my best unicorn life without glitter?!

All hope is not lost – you can still be your fabulous, glittering self thanks to the wonders of biodegradable glitter. Biodegradable glitters are made of compostable plant matter and are just as sparkly and gorgeous as plastic glitter. It’s just as durable too – don’t worry, it won’t melt off your face when you’re getting down and dirty at a music festival. The only difference is the way that it decomposes – biodegradable glitter is broken down by microorganisms. So, even if it does end up in the ocean, it will be eaten up by microorganisms over a period of months – yay! While environmentally-friendly options are presently more expensive than the mass-produced variants, there’s hope that with time and increased demand they will become more affordable. Glitter fans are still spoiled for choice with plenty of options, such as Eco Glitter Fun, available on the market. The movement against glitter is supported by the decision of nearly 60 UK festivals to ban the use of glitter and other single-use plastic products. The “Drastic on Plastic Initiative” is led by the Association of Independent Festivals to ban single-use plastic by 2021 to help eliminate harmful waste. Now that’s a trend we can get behind.

Hopefully, understanding the environmental impacts of glitter will make consumers think twice before slathering themselves in the sparkly substance – and cosmetic companies with their products. The same effect can be achieved with biodegradable glitter – so you festival goers can maintain the glitz, without the guilt.

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