Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Glitter is awful. It gets everywhere, it takes weeks to completely remove, and after a few minutes, it just looks like a unicorn has been having a rather violent allergic reaction of some sort. Down with glitter, we say.
Rather wonderfully, it seems that scientists agree with us – although their reasoning is a little more substantial than ours.
“I think all glitter should be banned, because it’s microplastic,” said Dr Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist at Massey University, per The Independent.
Microplastics, as the name suggests, are incredibly fine pieces of plastic. Like most single-use plastic, microplastics find their way into the world’s oceans, where they contribute to vast country-sized patches of waste that take centuries to dissolve.
Microplastics are particularly good at ending up in the digestive systems of mammals, fish, and crustaceans all over the world. This is bad enough for them as it is, and as a heartbreaking segment from Blue Planet II recently demonstrated, the young are particularly vulnerable.
We also happen to eat quite a lot of seafood, which means that all those pieces of ingested plastic are ultimately ending up in our digestive systems. They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind, as they say.
Plenty of attention has fallen on microbeads as of late, but researchers like Farrelly are worried that not enough attention is being placed on the iridescent stuff of parties and school-era art. Despite plenty of bans on microbeads and other single-use plastics cropping up in various countries, there’s a worry that most glitter won’t be included in the legislation.
“When people think about glitter they think of party and dress-up glitter,” Farrelly notes. “But glitter includes cosmetic glitters as well, the more everyday kind that people don’t think about as much.”
It’s a fair enough issue to bring up. After all, no one would agree that polluting the world’s hydrosphere and destroying food chains – including ones we rely on – is a price worth paying so that we can literally sparkle from time to time.
Just take a look at the state of the oceans. The amount of plastic pollution in them has increased 20 times in the last decade alone, and some of that is entering the geological record and forming new rock types. Bacteria have now evolved to consume polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most common forms of plastic, and one that’s becoming shamefully abundant in the water column.
Frustratingly, the solution to this problem already exists in the form of bioplastic. Researchers know that 90 percent of the world’s plastic, currently made from fossil fuel products, could be replaced by a type derived from plants instead.