How the Environment Has to Pay for Our Obsession with Glitter?

How the Environment Has to Pay for Our Obsession with Glitter?

It’s 2022, and there’s no such thing as too much sparkle. Glitter is an addiction, and it is hard to imagine a world without it. It has always been there in our lives in some form- in make-up, art and craft supplies, and even clothing these days twinkles with glitter. The 70s brought the glam of glitter on high streets after the birth of disco. Since then, it has been an unstoppable force. Even now, trends like the Euphoria make-up trend have lit a spark of passion for glitter among teens. People like glitter because it allows them to be bold, unique, creative, and free. 

However, outside this glam bubble, there is a dark side to the glitter industry. It is tough to get to rid of. The conventional glitter is made of nothing but tiny pieces of plastic. 

While there has been a lot of awareness in recent times about cutting down the usage of plastic in our lives, glitter is often overlooked as a contributing factor to pollution. And that is very dangerous because statistics tell us a different story. 

In this article, we will talk about the environmental cost of the glitter industry and the up-and-coming sustainable alternatives to the conventional glitter that are being designed.

A Brief History 

It might come off as a surprise to you, but glitter has been used for aesthetic purposes even by ancient civilizations. Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, and Roman civilizations used tiny pieces of mica to add a reflective glow to their paintings. The Egyptians also created a glitter-like substance from crushed beetles.

Coming to the modern age, the industrial plastic glitter that we use today was invented in 1934 in New Jersey. 

However, it was the early 70s when glitter became extremely popular. With the rise of glam rock and disco, pop culture was loaded with glitter. Since then, whether it was the glittery hair of the 80s or the body glitter trend of the 2000s, glitter always found a way to stay in the game in any form.

The Problem with Glitter


Glitter is just one member of the large family of microplastics. These microplastics are less than 5mm long and form a large part of plastic debris found in the oceans. Usually, they are a part of much larger plastic wastes that have broken down over time into little fragments. Like other plastics, they take hundreds of years to break down and keep getting accumulated into the environment. These microplastics are a part of daily makeup that we use, whether it is an eye shadow or a highlighter. Nail polishes too.

Because of its size, it is not something that can be recycled. Instead, they directly make their way to the oceans and freshwater bodies and harm the marine life. Glitter also has toxic components for our bodies and the environment, like aluminum, titanium dioxide, and iron oxide. 

All these characteristics make it an ecological hazard. As a result, some scientists and campaigners are calling for a total ban on glitter. That is still a very debatable topic though.

Microplastics and Human Health 

You may be surprised to know that we consume up to 5 grams of microplastics- approximately equal to a credit card- every single week. Farm animals and fish consume microplastics when they mistake them for food and eventually find a way to our dinner plate.

However, eating meat is not the only way microplastics get into our bodies. These tiny pollutants are also found in fruit and vegetables such as carrots, lettuce, pears, and apples. When they make their way into the soil, they grow into these fruits and vegetables.

If we end up consuming too many of these little microplastics, which are also great harbourers of contaminants like trace metals, chemicals, and even carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), we could develop some serious health issues like cancer, hearing loss, and nervous system problems. The long-term effects of consuming microplastics for us and our future generations are still a concern that is under research.

Should We Get Rid Of Glitter?

The answer is no. There is no need to. You do not have to sacrifice the shine when there are eco-friendly alternatives already available out there. As for the traditional glitter, PET glitter should absolutely be banned. And in many places, it has.

Biodegradable glitters are plant-based, made from the cellulose core of eucalyptus. Due to this, they are discarded in 1 or 2 months max- unlike plastic glitter that takes hundreds of years. So their environmental impact is almost zero, at least in theory. 

However, these green products are not as ‘eco-friendly’ as they seem to be. The 2020 study by Anglia Ruskin University found that modified regenerated cellulose (MRC) and mica glitter, both increasingly being used as eco-friendly alternatives to regular glitter, negatively impacted freshwater habitats. In fact, these impacts were almost identical to those of plastic glitter. The scientists concluded that both conventional and alternative glitters have an ecological impact on ecosystems. Minimizing its usage, in general, seems to be the best option. Nevertheless, the industry is always working towards new innovations that could shape the future.

In conclusion, glitter is not an essential product, it’s unnecessary. Yet it is harming the environment. So anything that falls into both of these categories should be discouraged. Although, if you want to use it, make sure that you opt for biodegradable alternatives. Or maybe you won’t need to-the natural glow on your face from knowing that you are protecting the environment will be glitter enough. 


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