The Problem With Glitter


Did you know that glitter is hazardous to the environment? This may seem hard to believe until you realize that glitter is plastic. As such, it shares the same problems that all other plastics do: as it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, it finds its way into the ecosystem where it pollutes habitats and harms wildlife — and us!

If you’ve ever worked with glitter, you know how difficult disposing of it can be. It sticks to nearly any surface it touches. It’s too small to recycle and, sometimes, too small to even throw away. You often have to resort to washing hands, clothes and surfaces, flushing glitter down the drain and into our waterways.

Glitter also lingers in the food chain. As a microplastic, it can be eaten by small animals, such as zooplankton and crustaceans. Since plastic does not naturally biodegrade, and only becomes smaller pieces of plastic, microplastics are not likely to leave the food chain once they have entered it. When larger animals eat contaminated prey, the plastic moves up the food chain with them, eventually ending up in human bodies. Although all plastics become microplastics eventually, glitter begins this way, meaning it pollutes the food chain more quickly.

So what can we do? Preventing waste before it starts is the most important step we can take. Some are even advocating for a ban on glitter. Though this may seem extreme, there is a precedent for microplastic legislation. In July, a congressional ban on the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics will go into effect. The goal of this legislation is to keep these tiny plastic particles out of our waterways. This is an important step given that plastic was recently found in 94 percent of water samples from across the country.

If you do use glitter, be conscious of how much you use and how you dispose of it. Wastewater treatment facilities cannot filter out microplastic, so try to wash as little as possible down the drain. Glitter you cannot store or reuse should be thrown in the garbage. Greeting cards, crafts and decorations with glitter cannot be recycled, so throw these away as well.

Read more about how you can reduce plastic waste.