The Environmental Cost of Plastic Glitter

 

by Zarine Kakalia

When you read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, you tend to think of a huge vortex of plastic water bottles floating in the sea, which does not accurately convey the plastic problem contaminating our world. Our ocean is being polluted by over 8.3 million tons of plastic a year, and while a portion of this does come from infamous plastic water bottles and plastic straws, a majority of the pollution is in the form of microplastics. Microplastics are extremely small fragments of plastic, measuring less than five millimeters, which pose high threats to our aquatic life and ecosystems due to their tiny size.

Studies have found microplastic contamination in fresh and canned fish, and even in sea salt.

As beautiful and shimmery as glitter is, most glitter is made from plastic. Glitter is made up of tiny pieces of microplastic, ranging from 0.05 to 6.35 millimeters, covered in color and reflective material such as aluminium, titanium dioxide, iron oxide, and bismuth oxychloride. Microplastics are found in hundreds of beauty products ranging from eyeshadow to body gel. When plastic glitter is rinsed off our bodies, it enters our waste water system and eventually our oceans, contributing to the estimated 300,000 metric tons of marine microplastic floating in the ocean. While plastic glitter is a beautiful addition to many makeup looks, the following three reasons may help you rethink purchasing products containing microplastic:

1. Microplastics are easily consumed by aquatic animals

Due to their small size, swallow-able size, microscopics are accidentally consumed by fish, plankton, shellfish, and other aquatic animals. Similarly to how human bodies are not situated to digest plastic, fish have inflammatory issues and a false sense of satiation when they consume microplastics, causing them to die of starvation. Investigations of plastic in fish have found that up to 73% of fish studied have plastics (large and small) in their stomachs. This harm doesn’t stop at fish -- deaths of species have a larger impact on the overall biodiversity of our planet, and reduced biodiversity is strongly correlated with weaker ecosystems. 

2. Microplastics enter our food chain and bodies when we consume seafood and sea salt 

Ocean fish health may not resonate with many people, but our own health definitely does. These fish consuming microplastics eventually become the food on our plates, and the plastic in our bodies. Studies have found microplastic contamination in fresh and canned fish, and even in sea salt. While concentrations of microplastic in our food are extremely low, the average person eats between 120-140 particles of plastic every day through various sources.

3. Microplastics contaminate our drinking water with plastic and chemicals 

Like other plastics, microplastics take an average of 500-1,000 years to decompose. Microplastics are either consumed by marine life or remain  in the ocean for centuries - releasing harmful chemicals and contaminants to what eventually becomes our drinking water. While ingredients in body glitter must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the chemicals used to treat these microplastics are not meant to be consumed. 

Our ocean is being polluted by over 8.3 million tons of plastic a year, and while a portion of this does come from infamous plastic water bottles and plastic straws, a majority of the pollution is in the form of microplastics.

The studies mentioned above focused on microplastics in general. While few studies have focused specifically on glitter, glitter is nonetheless a microplastic contributing to the greater issue of marine microplastic contamination. So what can you do about it?

  

As consumers, the first step is to be educated about the microplastics found in everyday products, such as glitter in beauty products or fibers in synthetic nylon fabric. Once you take note of products containing microplastics, try to eliminate ones you can live without. Want to radiate on a special occasion without glitter body gel? Hydrate, rest well, and exercise  your face will naturally glow, glitter and guilt free! In addition, there are natural exfoliants, such as coffee grounds and sugar, that can be used instead of microplastics in homemade or store-bought exfoliators!

As we continue on our journeys to live more sustainable lifestyles, it’s important to learn about the sneaky plastics lurking in everyday products, and it’s even more vital that we make conscious purchases moving forward.

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