13 Sep Glitter is Litter?!?!
Did you know that glitter is considered hazardous waste?
The type of glitter we are most familiar with today was invented in 1934 by machinist Henry Ruschmann when he started cutting sheets of mylar plastic into tiny pieces. It was mainly made from scrap plastic at the time.
In 1943, he started manufacturing industrial glitter and this practice is continued into today. This glitter is usually made up of copolymer plastics, coloring, and reflective material such as aluminum, titanium dioxide, iron oxide and bismuth oxychloride.
Prior to that, glittery artwork and makeup dates far back into prehistoric times. Even our prehistoric ancestors loved to shimmer and shine. Prior to the invention of plastics, people crushed up natural minerals such as mica, galena, or hematite to add that glitter pop.
These days, with the prevalence of plastic and microplastic pollution in our natural systems, glitter seems to just get by under the radar, similar to the way it slips by our water treatment filtration systems. Yes, glitter is so small (a couple millimeters and under) that it is unable to be filtered out, and therefore it goes right into our watershed.
Almost every art studio, teacher, and parent has experienced the infestation of glitter. We have all seen how long it lasts in our schools and homes, and perhaps even cursed it once or twice. What we are not hearing is how glitter is affecting our aquatic life. Every being in our watershed is negatively impacted by our use of plastics, including glitter.
As of November 2020, it is estimated that there are over 150 tons of plastic pollution in the world’s waterways. When we see images of animals washing up on shore due to plastic pollution, it is not always whole soda bottles, and fishing line, it is also due to microplastics building up in their digestive systems. Plastics in the body (animal or human) get stored in their fat cells, and then the contaminants and chemicals bioaccumulate and go up the food chain, right back to us humans. Microplastic pollution is so prevalent that it has made it to our favorite seafood dishes, and has gone largely unnoticed.
Glitter has been deemed hazardous waste, and scientists around the world are calling for a complete ban on glitter made from plastic. This would be a great win for the environment, especially after the Microbead- Free Waters Act of 2015. Remember microbeads?
Change always starts somewhere, and it is not always easy, but we know when it is the right thing to do. In the United Kingdom, three major retailers have banned glitter from their products. This is just the beginning. If we, as consumers and citizens, want to see cleaner waterways, and eat fish that has not been impacted by plastic, we should do something about it. Best thing is to stop purchasing glitter, and consider alternatives for all your shimmering needs. Next best thing is to throw away any glitter you have. After that, we can look into our communities and call for a ban on plastic glitter in our daycares, schools, summer camps, after school programs, and most importantly, in our retailers. When we work together to educate each other, we become stronger as a community.
It is predicted that by 2040, plastic pollution in the ocean will triple if there is no drastic action taken. While we know everyone wants to try to go plastic free, we understand that it is hard in our current “throw away” culture. Check out our blog on Zero Waste swaps from last year for some inspiration. Please remember, in the wise words of our owner Gwenn Nolan: the greenest product is the one you didn’t buy.
Some natural (and compostable) alternatives to glitter are:
Eco Glitter Fun
For more information, feel free to check out the sources linked below.