I’m Giving Up Glitter Even Though It Makes My Daughter Happy
By Janice Quirt
Jan 16, 2018
I’m sorry. I really am, because my daughter simply adores glitter. From the craft table to the sneaker aisle, she loves the sparkle and colour of this “magical” substance. The problem is, it turns out that this party supply is not as magical as it might seem. Sure, it makes the little ones happy. But glitter is a microplastic – a tiny piece of plastic under 5 mm in size. And like its cousin microbeads — those little exfoliating bits found in personal care products — glitter is seriously messing up our environment.
What Microplastics Do
Glitter and microbeads make their way into our water systems, like lakes and oceans. They accumulate there and end up in fish and marine life, because these bits of plastic are overtaking their homes. It's bad for them and potentially bad for us, too, since we ingest microplastics when we eat fish and seafood.
The chemical nature of polyethylene terephthalate (PET - the plastic used in glitter) means that microplastics take forever to break down and they also attract toxins from their environment. That means that marine life ingest plastics as well as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which we in turn eat.
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So this is not just a major environmental problem, it’s also a potential health concern, although scientists currently say it's too soon to tell what the effects of ingesting microplastics could be. And microplastics have been found in pretty much all drinking water sources, so once again we are consuming plastic and the chemicals it attracts.
This problem led to the ban on microbeads. So, YAY! But glitter is still around. And as I see my daughter eyeing the glitter body paint and makeup, I start to realize that even as she outgrows glitter glue crafts, there is still glitter in the pre-teen to adult world. Just think of how many Christmas decorations left you with a fine dusting of sparkles on your hands and face. Sure, it was easy to wash off, but those microplastics were just released into the environment.
Giving Up Glitter
I was dreading “the talk” with my daughter about breaking up with glitter. I mean, it’s so fun and pretty! But as I explained the effects it could have on the Earth and some of our favourite sea creatures (we’re pretty big otter fans here), she totally got it. She grasped that while she may still want to play with glitter (and she does), she doesn’t need to. And looking at pictures of healthy oceans compared to oceans contaminated with plastic – big or small – makes for a fairly convincing argument.
What to Use Instead
I always like to offer the kids a positive action whenever we have to talk about making a change (i.e., taking away beloved glitter!). So I was pretty happy to learn that there are eco-conscious alternatives to plastic glitter. Some glitter is made with mica, minerals or cellulose, which are all biodegradable. To check if glitter is not biodegradable, look for these common terms that mean the glitter is made with plastic: polyethylene terephthalate (PET); polyethylene (PE); or polypropylene (PP). Avoid these types if you can. Etsy has some great eco-friendly glitters as well that biodegrade, and some are even made from non-GMO eucalyptus trees!
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Make Your Own
Of course the DIY route is always an option, especially for crafts. If you’ve ever coloured Easter eggs using natural dyes, you’ll know that a lot of things in nature add a lovely hue. Try some of those dyes with sugar or salt to add a sheen and texture. Or go foraging outside for even more organic decorations like pinecone scales, evergreen needles, sumac bits and more. Just remember the rules about not tasting anything! And in spring and summer, the petals from fallen flowers put that plastic, toxic glitter to shame.
Breaking up with glitter is not that hard to do. There are many eco-friendly solutions that are easy to pick up, once you're aware of the problems with traditional glitter. So go ahead and sparkle on in an environmentally friendly way!