The dark side of Glitter!
Glitter is everywhere nowadays, whether it’s your make-up, nail polish, kids parties, at festivals or on the dancefloor, a little bit of sparkle can brighten up anyone's day! Keeping with the theme of last week on the microfibre and microplastics pollution, glitter may be losing its shine. So what’s the problem with glitter and what can we do about it?
A brief history of glitter
Humans have been making glitter for many centuries, going back to the times of Cleopatra. The Romans and Greeks used the shiny mineral mica to bring some bling to their artworks. Neanderthal makeup has been discovered that contains flecks of a reflective, black mineral. Psychologists have even suggested that there is an evolutionary reason for our love of sparkle – it speaks to something innate in us – our attraction to water
In 1934, modern glitter was born when American machinist Henry Ruschmann found a way to produce it on an industrial scale. After the World War II, plastic became cheaper and more widespread, making it the perfect material for making the shiny particles. Since the 1970s – through the glam and disco eras, 90s pop and today’s stunning Instagram makeup make-overs, sparkles have become a fashion statement.
Much of the glitter available for cosmetics, craft and clothing is made from sheets of thin plastic such as PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate), coated in a shiny substance, often aluminium, and cut into millions of tiny pieces.
So what is the problem?
PET plastic glitter cut into millions of tiny pieces is actually a microplastic.
That means every time we rinse our glitter-laced clothes, wash our shiny hair and face or let our glitter-covered accessories shed little pieces of sparkle, we are contributing to microplastic pollution in our oceans.
We already discussed microplastic pollution and we know it is a huge problem.
This is the reason some scientists have called for and end to plastic glitter, and 61 UK music festivals have banned it from their venues.
However for Dr Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth who led a research project in 2016 that found microplastic in a third of UK-caught fish, when it comes to glitter, there’s cause for “concern rather than alarm”.
While it is important to reduce any emissions of plastic into our environment, he says, “it’s about getting these things in perspective”. Glitter probably represents only a tiny proportion of the plastic waste entering our environment compared with, say, the amount of food and drink packaging left on beaches.
The other thing about plastic, any plastic, is that it’s made from fossil fuels. Most plastic is a product of the oil and gas industry, which also burns fossil fuels for energy – a major source of greenhouse gases.
To have any chance of reversing devastating climate change, we need to stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible and that also means weaning ourselves off single-use plastic.
Is mica better?
Mica is a natural mineral that also sparkles. It’s been used for centuries to add shine to materials and is commonly found in cosmetics and car paint, as well as in technology. Mica is mined from rock and can be found in many places around the world.
A series of investigations by the Guardian revealed that mica producers in India were using child labour on a massive scale. Up to 20,000 children are thought to work in mica mines in the states of Jharkand and Bihar, which produces up to 25% of the world’s supply. Lush, the famous beauty chain priding itself on being ethical and sustainable, recently announced it was moving to synthetic mica, because it couldn’t guarantee the mica it was sourcing hadn’t been produced with child labour.
Is there an ethical and sustainable alternative?
There may be a lot of problems with glitter and some common sense when to use and when to leave is definitely a good start.
However, if you are a big fan and not willing to give it up, don’t worry, there are a few companies making biodegradable, plastic-free, cruelty-free glitter so you can continue to sparkle and shine.
Most of them replace the plastic with cellulose from (mostly) eucalyptus trees making it biodegradable. Some of them still use tiny amount of aluminium and some heavy metals, so read up on the details if this is an issue for you!
Here are some brands you can check out for ethical and sustainable glitter:
Enjoy the sustainable sparkles and keep shining!
Thanks Good On You for the inspiration!