The confetti and glitter is still all over the place. Thrown in the air for the perfect graduation photographs, the teeny tiny colorful pieces litter the ground throughout the University of California Berkeley campus. Yes, graduation was over two months ago, but it doesn't rain here during the summer, so the bits are still everywhere. I even tracked some home on my shoe the other day.
Eventually, it will rain, and all those little pieces of plastic will wash into the storm drains and out into the San Francisco Bay. Eventually, they'll travel into the Pacific Ocean.
Despite bans on plastic bags and the recent ban on microbeads in the U.S., plenty of similar plastics end up in our oceans. Like glitter, they contribute to the 800 tons of plastic that make their way into the ocean each year.
Glitter is made up of plastic and aluminum bonded with polyethylene terephtalate (PET), said Trisia Farrelly, a social anthropologist at Massey University in New Zealand, in this NZ Stuff piece. She researches plastic waste and confirmed what we all know: Glitter gets into everything, even water filtration systems.
Fish with a side of glitter
Glitter is especially problematic in products that are applied to skin and washed off in the shower. "These are literally 'down the drain' products. You put it on and you wash it off. They are made to be disposed of," said Farrelly.
Once that stuff washes into oceans or lakes, some of the glitter gets eaten by fish that we consume. Shrimp cocktail with glitter, anyone?
Due to the chemical structure of plastics, they not only take hundreds of years to break down, they also collect toxins from the surrounding seawater, turning them into little balls of chemicals. Those endocrine-disrupting chemicals work their way into the animals that eat them, and then into us.
All that has led those who are trying to keep plastics out the ocean to suggest a glitter ban. "Start with microbeads, fine, but don't stop there. It would be ridiculous to do so. It's a no-brainer for glitter and microfibers, we have to stop producing them," said Farrelly.
And if you're a glitter fan, don't worry. There are ways to make non-plastic, biodegradable glitter. LUSH uses mica-and mineral-based ingredients to make glitters, "as well as natural starch-based lusters." You can check what causes the glitter in your products by reading labels.
"To avoid being a part of the microplastics problem, start by checking the labels of all your cosmetics to determine if they contain any plastic-based materials. They’re often listed as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP)," advises LUSH.