When it comes to eliminating the tiny and harmful microplastics that pollute the world’s oceans, scientists are on a quest to root out all possible culprits, even the ones which we hold very dear. The target of their latest efforts is a seemingly innocent offender: glitter.
Dr. Trisia Farrelly, senior lecturer at Massey University’s School of People, Environment and Planning, has come out as a vocal opponent against our continued use of the sparkly particles. She cites it as one of the biggest threats to the future of both the world’s oceans and its aquatic life. She earned what was arguably her biggest form of support from a surprising source early last month: a group of nurseries located in the United Kingdom made the move to completely ban glitter from all of its facilities.
Glitter is a "global hazard" - help us stop it being used needlessly for play and entertainment, there are more sustainable options. https://t.co/uE8X4sFo51— Cheryl Hadland (@Cherylhadland) 29 Kasım 2017
Cheryl Hadland, Managing director with Hadland Care Group, an outfit that provides daycare services for Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset, discusses the unseen impact that daily use of glitter in their facilities is having. “You can see when the children are taking their bits of craft home and there's glitter on the cardboard, it blows off and into the air,” adding about the scale of the problem, “There are 22,000 nurseries in the country, so if we're all getting through kilos and kilos of glitter, we're doing terrible damage."
What Goes Into Glitter?
The shiny art and fashion material is composed of the polymer Mylar. Because the size is roughly one millimeter in diameter, glitter is a microplastic. It’s enormous popularity and ability to easily enter our oceans, and as a result, our food chain, is behind scientists' concerns: "The problem with microplastics is that it's so small. When we pour it away, wash it down the sink or take it away from our daily lives, we don't know where it goes. It goes straight into the oceans, just like big plastic...it just stays as it is for a long, long time," Marine biologist Alan Kwan explained in a video with the BBC.
In his study published in 2012 in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, “Occurrence of microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract of pelagic and demersal fish from the English Channel”, Plymouth University Marine Biology Professor Richard Thompson shares the sobering findings that over a third of the fish caught in Great Britain had managed to ingest microplastics, 36.5% to be exact.
A number of biodegradable and eco-friendly alternatives have been in the works in recent years. The lack of aluminum in newer products affects their sticking power. Companies like Bioglitz, with its powerful slogan of “Shine Responsibly,” are filling a new niche.
Beyond our sentimental attachments to glitter, few would argue against its ban given the obvious environmental harms it has been proven to cause. Still, the expression ‘all that glitters’ was created for a reason: we must face the reality that we will have to part with some old habits, or products, in the future if they continue to come at the expense of our planet.