Is Glitter Bad For The Environment?

Glitter is made from microplastics which contribute to pollution of waterways. Unfortunately, it's used in everything from art projects to cosmetics. Should we consider banning glitter in order to reduce the pollution we create? 

What's glitter made from and why is it bad? 

First things first: Let's talk about what glitter is made from. Glitter is essentially a microplastic, designed to never break down in the environment. Glitter is made from plastic sheets and used in many different products, including cosmetics. Kids and adults alike use it all the time in arts and crafts, and glitter can get pretty much everywhere during that time. It can cling to clothes, skin, and hair, and washing it off just sends it into waterways.

When washed down the drain, glitter becomes a big problem for marine life. It enters the waterway as microplastics, which are already found at large throughout much of the ocean. They span across the surface of water and can even be found all the way down to the deep-sea floor. Unfortunately, many marine animals, such as shellfish, plankton, fish, and sea birds, mistake microplastic for food. That's because they are less than five millimeters in length and look similar to the food they actually do eat. When animals consume microplastics for extended periods of time, the pieces collect in their stomachs causing some animals to die a slow, painful death of starvation.

If that's not bad enough, fish who ingest microplastics can be scooped up into nets before dying from starvation and served to humans. The toxins from the plastic are then transferred from the fish to the human, rising up in the food chain. This means plastic affects more than just our environment and marine life, but also us. 

Exactly how much glitter contributes to microplastic pollution is unknown. However, other forms of microplastics can be tracked: Scientists estimate more than 8 trillion microbeads enter U.S. waters daily. These come from two sources mostly: Plastic trash broken down into flea-sized bits and manufactured plastic beads added to personal care products. It's safe to say enough microplastics enter our waterways from other forms of plastic: We don't need glitter adding to that problem. 

So what's there to be done? Should we ban glitter altogether? Should we regulate it in some way?  

I say we, as consumers, need to step up to the plate and stop buying glitter—at least conventional glitter anyway. We need to reduce our usage of it and look towards more sustainable options. Trust me when I say, there are sustainable glitter options out there. It's not like you have to completely sacrifice your love of glitter—you just have to swap it out for more eco-friendly glitter options. That said, I wouldn't be opposed to an all-out ban of plastic glitter too. 

Are there eco-friendly glitter alternatives? 

Yes! There are so many companies making sustainable glitter, it's almost overwhelming. There's glitter made from glass beads, crushed glass, and biodegradable materials. Using these eco-friendly glitters in place of plastic glitter is so much better for the environment. At the least, if some of this sustainable glitter escapes into the environment, it will not absorb toxins and will eventually break down.  

If you decide to use glass glitter, you can probably find it at your local craft store. You may even find beautiful shattered glass glitter that comes in several different colors or nice glass microbeads that come in an array of pretty colors. You can also find a lot of biodegradable glitter on Etsy. You can safely use biodegradable glitter on your skin and hair too. Some biodegradable glitter is made from cellulose of eucalyptus trees, with natural, sustainably sourced, non-GMO materials that biodegrade in nature and water.  

These are only a few eco-friendly glitter options. If you're on a budget, you could also have fun and make some DIY confetti from leaves: Using a hole puncher, just cut as much confetti as you'll need. It's fun to do this with an assortment of leaf colors (like green, yellow, red, orange, plum, etc.) and it's completely biodegradable! You can use it to decorate tables at parties, or give to kids to throw about outside on holidays. 

If you currently still have plastic glitter in your home, use it up and properly dispose of any excess so you don't waste it. Make sure as little of it as possible gets into waterways. You can also try donating it to schools, if you truly do not want to use it again. Replace it with one of the glitter suggestions above and you'll be helping out the environment a whole lot. 

Do you believe plastic glitter should be banned outright? Share your thoughts with us!