Is ‘Eco-Friendly’ Glitter Really That Eco-Friendly?

Scientists in the UK and elsewhere have called for a complete ban on glitter because they claim it takes thousands of years to break down when it pollutes the environment.

Researchers from Cambridgeshire warned, supposedly biodegradable glitter particles are just as toxic and can even encourage the spread of invasive species.

‘Many of the microplastics found in our rivers and oceans have taken years to form, as larger pieces of plastic are broken down over time,’ said paper author and ecologist Dannielle Green of the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.

‘However, glitter is a ready-made microplastic that is commonly found in our homes and — particularly through cosmetics — is washed off in our sinks and into the water system,’ she told the Daily Mail.

A study conducted by Dr Green and colleagues evaluated the impact of glitter on living freshwater habitats in a laboratory setting.

‘Our study is the first to look at the effects of glitter in a freshwater environment,’ explained Dr Green.

The study concluded that in glitter infested waters the root length of common duckweed was halved after five weeks of exposure to the micro-plastics pollution.

Chlorophyll levels in the water were also found to become three times lower than usual — suggesting the presence of fewer phytoplankton (microscopic organisms that provide food for a wide range of water creatures and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) or microalgae.

The team also evaluated the impact of so-called eco-friendly glitters which are made of materials such as mica, a flaky mineral, and modified regenerated cellulose.

While the latter is mainly sourced from eucalyptus trees, it is still coated in plastic, the researchers explained.

The team found that pollution from eco-friendly glitter was just as destructive to freshwater environments as its regular counterpart.

Dr Green concluded that “both conventional and alternative glitters can have a serious ecological impact on aquatic ecosystems within a short period of time.’ 

‘All types — including so-called biodegradable glitter — have a negative effect on important primary producers which are the base of the food web.’

‘Glitter with a biodegradable cellulose core has an additional impact of encouraging the growth of an invasive species.’

We believe these effects could be caused by leachate from the glitters, possibly from their plastic coating or other materials involved in their production, and our future research will investigate this in greater detail.’

The full findings of the study were published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.