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What is Glitter, Why is it bad for the Environment?

Everyone loves glitter because they make any ordinary hairstyle, outfit, makeup or accessory into something wonderful, colourful

By Ground Report
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What Is Glitter, Why is it bad for the Environment?

Everyone loves glitter because they make any ordinary hairstyle, outfit, makeup or accessory into something wonderful, colourful and very beautiful. But the sad thing about the situation is that glitter is very bad for the environment because it is very similar to the harmful plastic microparticles that currently pollute the seas and that aquatic fauna consumes daily.

In response to recent findings that biodegradable glitter isn't actually any better for the environment than traditional plastic options, major retailers are removing it from their products this holiday season.

Glitter has become one of the definitive symbols of the millennial generation, whether as a makeup accessory at parties and mobilizations or as an extravagant decoration for food and drinks.

But behind all that glitter lies a serious environmental threat. The most widely used variety of this product is made of plastic. When it passes from the drains to the oceans it is consumed by part of the marine ecosystem, such as plankton and fish, and its accumulation in the system can result in death.

What Is Glitter?

Glitters are fancy items and they come in different sizes, shapes, and colours and are used for a variety of purposes. When we talk about a glamorous brand, glitter can come to mind from skin care products to makeup products, holiday decorations, greeting cards, and nail polish and some are even edible.

Modern glitter originated in 1934 when an American farmer named Henry Ruschmann created a way to cut mylar and plastic sheets into tiny shapes. He formed Meadowbrook Inventions, which remains one of the world's leading suppliers of glitter.

Made from sheets of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyethene terephthalate (PET), the same plastic found in water bottles, the plastic is metallized on both sides by applying ultra-thin layers of aluminium that give it the shine colour and gloss factor.

Many types of glitter have a thin third layer of styrene acrylate, another plastic. Still, proprietary formulas keep the details of exactly what's in the glitter confined to the walls of Garden State's glitter factories. The glitter is then scooped out of the sheets in small pointed chunks, mostly hexagonal in shape.

Glittler affects the environment

In the study carried out by Dr. Dannielle Green, the biological glitters were placed for 36 days in a freshwater habitat where the levels of chlorophyll in the water were three times lower than normal, indicating reduced levels of phytoplankton, also known as microalgae. 

Likewise, it was found that the population of mud snails doubled, these mud snails are an invasive species, which can surpass native species and alter ecosystems, and are even related to polluted waters.

According to the researchers, these effects were "almost identical" to the effects of regular brightness in freshwater habitats.

Both regular glitters and "biodegradable" alternatives can have a serious ecological impact on aquatic ecosystems in a short period of time."

Glitter is also a microplastic that measures less than 5mm and ends up in the world's seas being consumed by large populations of fish. So when people go to remove all that glittery makeup or wash their hair, they are polluting the world's seas with vast amounts of glitter.

Microplastics are classified by the US National Ocean Service as those that "easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in the ocean and large lakes." So removing all the shine in the showers is not the ideal solution to preserve the environment.

For its part, a study published in Environmental Science and Technology showed that microplastics act as an aid to bacteria. The research is responsible for explaining how the most lethal microbes manage to survive in an aquatic environment thanks to the properties of microplastics. 

In addition, adding to all these negative properties, the study indicates that both bacteria and microplastics can last for many years thanks to chemical products that prevent their degradation in any environment, causing contamination and its harmful effects to persist and accumulate in time.

Glitter present in Challenger Deep

According to a study in the journal, Geochemical Perspectives cited by Insider, microplastics such as glitter are already present in Challenger Deep, the deepest point on Earth's seabed, nearly 11,000 meters underwater.

Research from Massey University in New Zealand found that polyethene terephthalate (PET), the most common element used to make glitter, contains chemicals that can affect the function of animal hormones and humans.

Several companies and organizations have decided to take action on the matter. Last year, 61 music festivals banned people with glitter makeup from entering. In addition, the cosmetics brand Lush has replaced it in its products with a biodegradable variety, and the activist group 38 Degrees has just petitioned the UK government to ban it altogether.

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