As with microbeads and other types of microplastic, researchers say that glitter may be a big environmental hazard. The simple shiny material is commonly used on crafts and for pulling pranks, but the tiny bits of plastic exist long after the paper crafts rot and the fun is over. The biggest risk is for oceans, where glitter can be harmful to sea life.
Microbeads used in body washes brought the issue of microplastics to public attention, their existence criticized as a major ecological danger as the plastic would go down drains and into bodies of water, persisting long after the suds disappeared. Many places have banned microbeads as a result, and environmental anthropologist Dr. Trisia Farrelly says glitter should be similarly barred, pointing out to The Independent that it’s a type of microplastic.
Microplastics like glitter and microbeads are hard to eliminate once they enter a body of water. Fish and other marine life eat the tiny plastic, sometimes resulting in death; those that live long enough to be caught by anglers then pose a risk to human health. Consuming a fish that consumed microplastics could result in the consumer ingesting some of those plastics, which have been identified in some cases as hormone disruptors.
While microbeads were something of a fad that came and went quickly, relatively speaking, glitter has been around for a long time and will continue to persist in a variety of products unless banned. The shiny substance can be found in all sorts of products: used on toys, mixed with cosmetics like lip gloss, and even mailed to people in diabolical envelopes.
Banning glitter as it exists today won’t necessarily mean the end of glitter as a whole; rather, companies and consumers will need to shift toward eco-friendly glitter that breaks down in the environment and doesn’t pose the same risk to life. Some eco-friendly glitters already exist, and a public push for safer, more sustainable options would no doubt spawn increased availability of the substance.