Everyone has heard about microplastics, the small pieces of plastic waste created by the disposal of everyday consumer products. Everyone is strongly against microbeads found in thousands of cosmetic products. Everyone knows a little about microfibers, the thin synthetic yarns shedding into the water during each wash. What about glitter? Chances are you haven’t even considered it having a negative connotation. But glitter is a plastic-based product made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) that pollutes the ocean. Glitter kills eight billion fish, oysters, birds, and animals each day, starving them as they innocently believe these sparking specks are food.
Glitter might be even be smaller than micro plastics, categorized as nano plastics. These particles are all in the same family, but glitter is seen as the harmless grandma, never the villain.
Today, there are many companies making biodegradable, eco-friendly glitter. For example, Bio Glitz values shining responsibly, making glitter from plants. Compostable and made from renewably sourced ingredients, their formula “connects us all through shine, consideration, and respect for nature.
” Another brand, Eco Stardust, designed bio glitter from the cellulose on eucalyptus trees, which is then dyed, painted, and put in a cutting machine to produce hexagonal shapes. Biodegradable glitter has fewer chemicals than petroleum based beauty, craft, and fashion items. Replacing PET with plant-based materials greatly reduces people’s environmental footprint.
From David Bowie to Kesha, glitter has been a key component to countless artists’ performances and identities. Kesha even claims to spend a few thousand dollars a month on glitter.
Imagine the impact Kesha could have if she bought sustainable glitter. “Glitter in the Air” by Pink sentimentally sings the excitement glitter conveys. It empowers people to live freely and provides a lighthearted metaphor of hope and joy.
Have you ever thrown a fist full of glitter in the air?
Have you ever looked fear in the face?
And said I just don’t care?
Movies such as Glitter, featuring Mariah Carey, create the idea that the epitome of stardom is sparkles. Underlying the misconception that one’s personality is not enough to be accepted. Millennials created this skewed view of reality where material things are valued over character. You can’t go anywhere without seeing a handful of sparkly hairstyles, makeup and flashy tattoos. In addition, glitter bombs, edible glitter pills and glitter gel, branded as Unicorn Snot, have become a necessity for any celebration, from Halloween parties to weddings. “There’s glitter on the floor after the party. Girls carrying their shoes down in the lobby.” (Taylor Swift) Consumers need to be empowered to realize the connection between what they buy and the consequences of those actions.
Glitter gets a free pass in our minds, while microplastics, fibers, and beads do not. Understandable when eight-hundred trillion microbeads are washed away daily, ten-thousand of those from the plastic particles in an “exfoliating” face wash used during daily showers. Fifteen billion tons of microplastics end up in the ocean each day. That is the same weight as sixty-thousand blue whales. Most of those water samples trace the debris back to microfibers. As only 9 percent of plastics are recycled each year, this is an inescapable and pressing issue that can only be fixed through reducing consumption habibs. You may have bought a reusable water bottle to cut back on plastic, but the drinking water inside is still filled with plastic chemicals.
There is an innate connection and attachment people have to their precious sparkles. Giving up glitter means losing a source of happiness for individuals. It is not associated with being a threat to the environment because of its aesthetically pleasing shine, blinding people to the harsh reality that in the past five years, ten million pounds of glitter was purchased in the United States alone. Five-thousand million more tons of plastic added to the already contaminated salt water body on top of the present fifteen billion. People have consumed enough glitter to weigh down forty school buses.
Recently, many whales have been struggling to survive, unable to swim or breathe. Accidentally, they have eaten up to twenty pounds of plastic debris. A few months ago, a pilot whale in Thailand was rescued after holding onto a buoy to stay afloat, during the rescue the whale threw up seven plastic shopping bags. All of that plastic was clogging its digestion track from the real nutritional diet it desperately needed. Thousands of other animals are experiencing this same thing. Whale and Dolphin Conservation director, Regina Asmutis-Silvia pleads, “We have no idea how many animals aren’t showing up on a beach. This is one pilot whale, this doesn’t consider other species. It’s symbolic at best, but it’s symbolic of an incredibly significant problem.” In addition, Dr. Amaral-Zettler, a senior scientist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research explains how plastic waste can “also serve as a transport mechanism for invasive species. Even on a microscopic level, marine microbes often live on plastic debris in a world referred to as the “plastisphere”.”
Glitter is on the forefront of this plastic pollution epidemic as it continues to hide under the radar. Cut open a piece of salmon from that trendy seafood restaurant in New York City and you may not see a pile of plastic and glitter pouring out but there is a good chance you are ingesting these particles. Fishes filled with plastic bottle caps, straws, and glitter in their gut is a gruesome reality of where our trash is going out into the depths of the ocean and then back onto our plates, even if it is invisible. It is like anything harmful in this world, if we don’t see it, it is easy to choose to ignore; therefore, it might be too late before people realize the harm glitter is causing.
“One plastic bottle eventually disintegrates into many tiny pieces that can be eaten by anything,” explained an experienced biological oceanographer, Jennifer Brandon. “The real problem in the ocean is happening at a very small scale.” Marine plastic the size of a dime is 90 percent of the problem found from sea ice in Antarctica to the North Shore of Hawaii. The tiny glitter should be the biggest concern as it interacts with the food chain the most. There is no away. Just because people do not see the things they are throwing away piled high in there day to day life that doesn’t mean it’s gone. It is filling up the pacific garbage patch, a polluted smog soup accumulated from man made trash spreading thousands of miles in the ocean.
The glitter industry poses many environmental and ethical downfalls. The plastic pieces underneath the shine would be nothing but plastic if it wasn’t for mica. Mica is a natural rock mineral that it then made into thin sparkling sheets. Plastic and mica are the ultimate partners in crime. Over twenty-thousand ten-year-old-children hammer flakes of mica off the side of a mountain in the hillside backwoods of Jharkhand, India to produce glitter. At the same time, twelve-year-old girls stumble carrying up to fifty pounds worth of the shimmering rocks to the top of the mountain to be sorted. They have it easy compared to their siblings working in the mines the size of a rat hole, coming out after a thirteen-hour workday coughing profusely with sparkles sticking to their cheeks. Ninety percent of what is being done there is illegal, although 25 percent of the world’s production still comes from this region. Large, multinational retailers, L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, continue to supply their glimmering beauty products with mica sourced from this impoverished area employing child labor. “One girl had to crawl into a dangerous mine with an axe to dig out the sparkles for another girl half way around the world.” (Slavery Footprint)
Suffering asks to be relieved by bright and shining things. Glitter is the band-aid used through bleak and turbulent periods. Psychologically, glitter continues to be a trend because, ‘Sparkles helps us rise above the mundane and bring us into the realms of dreams,’ Susan Miller, a popular astrologist discloses. Individuals surround themselves with glitter to forget about their dark problems and gloomy fears; thus, consumption is influenced by feelings of anxiety, depression, economic turmoil, and political unrest. Dr. Pinar Yoldas voices, “Society needs to begin viewing plastic as “dirty,” a source of carbon emissions and ocean pollution, as opposed to an invisible convenience.”
People can create sparkle from natural alternatives such as glass, metal, salt, sugar, sunlight, or even crushed-up dung beetles, Cleopatra’s personal favorite. Walk along any beach on a sunny day and you are bound to notice the small specks of bronze glimmering between your toes in the sand. Even though it looks like someone had an arts and craft explosion on the shore, it is sparkling an optical illusion. The chemical constituents in salt water are identical to the plasma in human blood. A mixture of water, salt, and protein creates a balanced mixture of minerals. That iron washes up from the waves into the sands, heating up from the sun to give off a sparkling pattern.
Getting rid of glitter completely is not the solution; instead we have to continue learning about the alternatives to plastic glitter-based products, whether it be giving back by buying from sustainable and ethical brands or even making your glitter at home. People need to voice their values to companies, and the types of environmentally-friendly products they want to see. Glitter still innocently flickers in thousands of beauty, fashion, and craft products. But if people understand that glitter is hurting the environment and the supply chain it employs, we can elicit effective action to change the massive plastic pollution problem and bring back the earth’s sparkle.