Eco-Friendly Gifts Blog: Is Glitter Bad for the Environment?
Glitter is a fabulous way to glam up for nights out, festivals and many other occasions that call for it.
However it is not widely known that glitter is plastic, and as a result contributes to the microplastic pollution crisis. On a global scale, we are now seeing microplastics in our drinking water, in our oceans and on top of mountains.
In this blog, we're going to look at exactly what glitter is made from and how microplastics are having a negative effect on the natural environment.
What Is Glitter Made From?
Traditional cosmetic glitter, festival glitter and body glitter is primarily made from Mylar. The normal size of Mylar when broken down from sheet form is, on average, a millimeter across.
Mylar is not the name of the plastic material, but the name of the trademark for sheets of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET). This is also known as polyester film, or simply a plastic sheet.
The trademark Mylar is owned by the company 'Dupont Tejjin Films'. According to their website, "DuPont Teijin Films is a leading global producer of PET and PEN polyester films".
PET, or Polyethylene Terephthalate, is a polymer with the chemical formula:
This means PET has 10 Carbon atoms, 8 Hydrogen atoms and 4 Oxygen atoms.
PET, like other plastics, is produced from crude oil. As a non-renewable resource, we need to move away from producing anything that comes from a finite amount of material.
Why is Plastic Bad for the Environment?
When we refer to plastic, we are referring to conventional plastic. Conventional plastic is produced from non renewable resources, which makes it unsustainable.
Common conventional plastics also don't have the ability to biodegrade, which means they can stay present in the natural environment or landfill for hundreds of years.
This is not the case for all plastics, but it is for the seven types of plastic that are most commonly produced.
These plastics each have a number attached to them, from 1-7. If you look at anything plastic, it will have a number inside the recycling triangle, with a few letters.
The numbers are ordered by difficulty of recycling, with one being the easiest to recycle, and seven being the hardest.
Bioplastics are similar to these fossil based plastics, but they are produced from renewable resources, can biodegrade, or both. In this section, we are focusing on conventional plastics, and not bioplastics.
As a non renewable resource, mining oil is draining the planet of valuable resources. There is only a finite amount of oil left, and it is predicted to run out by 2060.
Continuing this ever increasing extraction of oil could potentially lead to economic crashes, sudden shortages and resource wars. Arguably all three are happening right now in some parts of the world.
Manufacturing PET resin releases huge amounts of toxic emissions into the air. These included nickel, ethylbenzene, and benzene.
Compared to glass, manufacturing PET could release these emissions up to 100x as much.
Creating plastic releases carbon dioxide, one of the main contributors to the climate crisis.
"According to the EPA, approximately one ounce of carbon dioxide is emitted for each ounce of polyethylene (PET) produced."
The most liberal estimate shows that up to 500 million tonnes of CO2 is emitted every year from the production of fossil based plastic.
A method to extract the resources to produce plastic is fracking.
Fracking is considered a dangerous method of extracting shale gas from beneath the ground. It has been linked with earthquakes, sinkholes and pollution of the local environment.
Plastic is causing terrible harm to the marine community, through the form of plastic pollution.
With an estimated 270,000 tonnes of plastic floating in the worlds oceans, marine populations are under a very real and immediate threat from plastic debris.
Over 700 marine species are seeing their populations numbers dwindle, and it's getting worse as plastic continues to flow into our seas.
One of the main reasons for these population numbers decreasing at an ever quickening rate is due to how animals respond to plastic debris.
Many animals, take the Sooty Shearwater for example, can't tell the difference between plastic and actual food. This leads to them ingesting plastic debris that they mistake for food.
One in the stomach, it could remain there indefinitely. When their stomachs fill up from plastic debris, they no longer feel the need to hunt. This is because they think they are full of nutrition, but they are inadvertently starving themselves. This could lead to death if they don't hunt for long enough.
It was recently discovered that marine animals also think plastic smells like food to them. This is because algae produces a smelly gas called dimethyl sulfate, or DMS. This process is a natural part of algae functioning in the ocean. Krill hunt algae, and is their primary source of food. Marine predators have learned that whenever they smell the odor given off by DMS, krill will be present.
Unfortunately, plastic debris makes the perfect environment for algae to thrive. This means that marine predators are being attracted to plastic debris, which they mistake for food. This leads to them ingesting the plastic debris.
What are Microplastics?
Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size. They can be primary or secondary. Primary microplastics are created below the maximum size of 5mm, wth common examples being clothing fibres, nurdles and glitter.
Secondary microplastics are formed from larger pieces of plastic breaking down.
Because microplastics are so small, they are prevalent in our oceans on a global scale. A type of miniscule microplastic is called a microbead, and have recently been banned in the UK.
As just mentioned, Microbeads are a type of microplastic. They are extremely small pieces of polyethylene that are found in products for the health and beauty industry. Products like toothpaste and cleansers.
These microbeads can pass through advanced water filtration systems, into our oceans and lakes, and even into our drinking water.
Microplastics are estimated to make up 92.4% of marine plastic.
How Do Microplastics Enter Our Water Systems?
Whether it be our drinking water or our oceans, microplastics have managed to infiltrate into various water systems around the world.
Clothing is estimated to produce 35% of all primary microplastics in the world's oceans. Every time an item of clothing is washed, microplastics in the form of clothing fibres are released.
Synthetic fibres account for roughly 60% of the world's annual consumption of fibres. Clothing produced from synthetic fibres such as polyester make up a significant proportion of this demand.
Why are Microplastics Bad?
The problem with microplastics begins at the very start of the marine food chain. One of the bases of the ocean food chain is commonly understood to be Zooplankton. These tiny creatures have been observed eating plastic.
As zooplankton ingest microplastics, they become contaminated with them. Any plastic that has remained in the body of the zooplankton, when it is consumed by the next predator up the food chain, is then ingested by that predator.
In this case, the mackerel. This means the mackerel are now contaminated with plastic that were in the body of the zooplankton.
A study has found that seals, a predator far up the food chain from zooplankton, have become contaminated with plastic. This movement of plastic through unintentional digestion is called 'trophic transfer'.
How do Microplastics Affect Humans?
Following on from the process of trophic transfer, studies have found that we, humans, are now ingesting microplastic through eating fish such as cod.
The health implications of microplastic ingestion is still unknown as studies are still being carried out, due to microplastic research still being a relatively new scientific field.
A potential risk comes from the small size of the microplastic being tiny enough to penetrate human tissue. This could cause unwanted and dangerous immune reactions. Another risk is the potential release of toxic substances within the body.
What is Biodegradable Glitter?
Biodegradable Glitter is the eco-friendly, plastic-free alternative to traditional festival glitter. Biodegradable Glitter is completely plastic free, so cannot worsen the plastic pollution problem.
It completely biodegrades in freshwater, so there is no risk of microplastics being produced as a result of producing, using or getting rid of Biodegradable Glitter when you're removing it.
Biodegradable Glitter is a fantastic alternative to conventional plastic glitter for many reasons. Biodegradable Glitter is completely plastic free, as well as aluminium and antimony free. All Source materials are ethically and responsibly sourced, with the core being made of cellulose. Finally, it feels great to the touch, and has a silky soft feel compared to polyester glitter.
Where Can You Get Biodegradable Glitter?
Our Biodegradable Glitter Gift Sets come with not just Biodegradable Glitter, but Aloe Vera Glitter Gel and Bamboo Glitter Brushes as well. The Gift Sets contain everything needed to apply the glitter, so the recipient can start having fun straight away.
We have a growing selection of eco-friendly gifts, all of them built around the premise of sending minimal waste to landfill.
Our collection of eco-friendly gifts are completely free of single use plastic, and the same rule applies for the packaging they come in.
If you would like to read more about biodegradable alternatives to single use plastic, and the effect plastic is having on the environment, feel free to subscribe to our email list at the bottom of the page.