I have a friend who insists that wearing glitter will improve your night out by precisely 34 per cent. I know it sounds crazy to put that specific a number on it, but to be completely honest with you, I kind of see her point. When you think about it, glitter makes everything that bit better; it’s always our go-to whenever we simply feel like a bit of sparkle to give us that je ne sais quoi (or want to be mistaken for a Christmas bauble at the work holiday party). Recent reports tell us that it was even put to excellent use in a grandmother’s raunchy Christmas tree decorations.
However, there is awful news for all of the glitter-enthusiasts out there, myself included: as fun as it is, it’s also one of the worst possible things out there for the environment, and kills thousands of sea animals every year. The reason being that, once made, the pieces of glitter take decades, some even say centuries to biodegrade. To be honest with you, they’re practically indestructible.
Most of the plethora of glitter out there is made from plastic sheets, already making it a potential ecological hazard, particularly for the oceans around the world. However, in addition, when washed down the drain, the sparkly material also becomes a subset of marine litter known as microplastics. Microplastics, tiny particles of polymer-type materials from modern industry less than five millimetres in length, can be found in many forms throughout the world’s oceans, from the surface to the deep sea floor
According to the U.S. National Park Service, a single plastic grocery bag could take 10-20 years to decompose, and aluminium could take an astounding 80 to 200 years. So it’s probably not so shocking that estimates place the number of microplastics in the world’s oceans at up to a whopping 51 trillion fragments in total, and as a result, they’re constantly consumed by fish, plankton, seabirds, shellfish and pretty much any other kind of marine life you can name.
The tiny pieces of plastic gradually collect in creatures’ stomachs, eventually causing them to tragically die of starvation. Some young fish have even been found to prefer tiny particles of plastic to their natural food sources, effectively starving them before they can reproduce. Back in 2016, scientists demonstrated that fish exposed to such materials during their development show stunted growth and increased mortality rates, as well as altered behaviour that could potentially endanger their survival.
So, what do we do about the situation? Scientists have a solution, but you’re probably not going to like it. Many of them have called for glitter to be completely banned. Yes, that’s right. No more glistening festival make-up, no more shimmering party dresses and no additional sparkle on your Christmas decorations.
“I think all glitter should be banned because it’s microplastic,” said Dr Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist at Massey University. “When people think about glitter they think of party and dress-up glitter. But glitter includes cosmetic glitters as well, the more everyday kind that people don’t think about as much.”
Professor Richard Thompson, a professor at Plymouth University who led a study examining how plastics affected marine environments, seemed to agree, stating: “I was quite concerned when somebody bought my daughters some shower gel that had glitter particles in it. That stuff is going to escape down the plughole and potentially enter the environment.”
If the thought of shortening thousands of marine animals’ lives isn’t enough to make you put down the glitter pot, then maybe this next piece of information may stop you in your tracks – there’s evidence to prove that glitter also has an adverse effect on humans. The circle of life means that microplastics often end up in our bodies as well, mostly due to our penchant for seafood.
— Queen Of Liberty.com (@MercuryOneOC) 3 December 2017
Most glitter is made of aluminium and a plastic called PET; researchers have claimed that PET can break down to release chemicals that disrupt hormones in the bodies of both animals and humans, and such chemicals have been linked with the onset of cancers and neurological diseases. So if you really don’t give a damn about all of the animals suffering due to your fetish for sparkly things, save a (disgustingly self-indulgent) thought for yourself instead.
I know what you’re thinking… is there any way at all we could keep glitter and not harm marine animals and ourselves in the process? It’s true that biodegradable glitter is out on the market at the moment, however, there are a few problems. Number one: everyone buys ordinary glitter anyway. Number two: Biodegradable glitter might not actually be any better for the environment anyway. Even if we were to convince everyone to spring for it, activists have questioned whether the combination of cellulose, aluminium and chemical colouring is really something for the world to get behind.
Who’d have thought that something so festive and sparkly would potentially have to be swept from the face of the earth? Life doesn’t half play some cruel tricks on you sometimes, but it’s looking like glitter has to go, and it has to go now. So, with a deep breath and much sorrow, we say goodbye to you, old friend. You were all fun and games… until you destroyed the environment.