By Kim Robson:
One of the most pervasive and damaging pollutants in the ocean is microplastic, tiny beads and plastic particles measuring 5 millimeters or less that require special fine-gauge netting to be removed from lakes and oceans. They might seem too tiny and insignificant to matter, but microplastics are perhaps the most dangerous because they are so difficult to clean up and are much more likely to be ingested by sea life.
As we face the looming possibility of there being more plastic in the ocean than sea life in the near future, scientists are looking at ALL forms of plastic that make their way into the environment — even glitter — in particular, glitter found in cosmetics and lotions because face and body glitter gets washed off at the end of the day and goes down the drain. Most water filtration systems aren’t designed to capture particles that small, so they then enter natural waterways and eventually wind up in the ocean.
Who knew? Glitter is made of aluminum and a plastic called Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PET. When PET breaks down, it releases chemicals. These chemicals disrupt hormones in animals and humans, and are linked to various cancers and neurological diseases.
Enjoy seafood? Scientists estimate there are upwards of 51 TRILLION microplastic fragments in the ocean right now, accounting for nearly one third of all ocean plastic by volume. Another study estimates that seafood consumers ingest up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic per year.
Already, the United States and other countries have banned microbeads from personal hygiene products, but now scientists and environmental activists are calling for those bans to include body and face glitter.
Dr. Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist at Massey University, thinks all glitter containing plastic should be banned. “When people think about glitter they think of party and dress-up glitter. But glitter includes cosmetic glitters as well, the more everyday kind that people don’t think about as much.” Farrelly adds that “producers need to be responsible. They need to use safer, nontoxic, durable alternatives.”
Some companies are already doing just that, as Dr. Sue Kinsey, senior pollution policy officer at the Marine Conservation Society, points out. Minke Bio Cosmetics is manufacturing eco-friendly, biodegradable body glitter as a solution. Cosmetics chain Lush has moved to replace its glitter with biodegradable synthetic alternatives.
But what about glitter used in nail polish or craft projects? Since most craft glitter is used for ornamentation purposes, it doesn’t end up going down the drain. Just be sure not to use it for face-painting, and not to allow glitter to be rinsed down the drain during cleanup time. Also keep in mind that, even though you may cherish them now, most kids’ craft projects will someday end up in a landfill, and glitter is not reasonably recyclable.
How can we make a difference? First of all, don’t buy personal care products that openly contain glitter. That can include eyeshadows, lipsticks and lip gloss, eyeliner, mascara, moisturizing lotions, and body gels and creams. Watch out for words like “glow,” “shimmer,” “gleam,” “brightening” and “radiance” in product descriptions. If you really have to have that shimmery look, seek out products that use all-natural powdered mica like this sea salt body scrub.
Contact your members of Congress and ask them to amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) by adding glitter to the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.
A group of nurseries in England that looks after 2,500 children decided they didn’t need to wait for a government-mandated ban. They banned glitter on their own, and just in time for Christmas, after learning about how harmful it is. This year the kids’ craft projects will be decorated with lentils and other natural decorations.
UK-based Sky News has launched a campaign called Sky Ocean Rescue, aiming to educate and inspire the public to change its behavior, to help protect our oceans, and to dramatically reduce the amount of ocean plastic waste produced every day: