I recently received some cards and gift wrapping for my birthday and was quite taken aback at the amount of glitter on some on them, which of course came off, and of course went everywhere. (Anyone who has ever used glitter knows that it goes everywhere!)
For some reason, I had been under the impression that glitter was a bit of a thing of the past, but it turns out it isn't a thing of the past. Glitter is still as readily available as it was before we knew about its environmental impacts, and found widely in things like cards and wrapping, as well as make-up, bath products, nail polishes, stationery items and car paints.
Let's have a quick look at the environmental issues. First of all, glitter is a microplastic typically made from a combination of plastic and aluminium. When glitter is used on a card or wrapping, those items can no longer be recycled. Its dispersibility is the other major issue. Remember how it goes everywhere? Well, not only does it get all over you when it is in its loose form, but it also gets into the air, soils, and worst of all our waterways, and that is where it does damage, disrupting the ecology of those systems and even potentially having endocrine disrupting effects.
To get a grasp of the extent of the issue, consider that research has turned up microplastics literally all across the globe — everywhere from the Arctic to bellies of whales — and that humans ingest roughly five grams of microplastics every week.
Like many environmental issues, it can seem like the small amount we individually use of these items should not carry too much risk, but we need to remember that we aren't the only ones using them. All of these things, whether it be things we have talked about before like balloons or perfume, become an issue when they are used en masse. Think about Christmas, or Mardi Gras, or consider all the preschools and kindergarten classrooms around the country.
There are alternatives to glitter. If you really need to sparkle, consider that 'eco' or 'bio' glitters, made from cellulose and reportedly both biodegradable and compostable, are having a moment, but the jury is still out about whether they are completely benign for the environment, with some believing that they are still ecologically disruptive.
Depending on the planned use of the glitter, other options are salt glitter (made from food colouring and salt), coloured rice, flowers, leaves and petals (as they are or as confetti), or plain old colourful paint.
If those options seem a poor substitute, consider whether you really need glitter anyway — after everything we know about it, it has certainly lost its sparkle to me.
Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.