Glitter: a harmless bit of fun or a threat to our environment?

Hands up if like me you love all things shiny, sparkly and glittery! Yes – I am a magpie and you won’t be surprised to learn my 18th birthday party was sparkle themed πŸ˜›

I am still obsessed with all things sparkle and glitz and will always jump at any chance to cover my face in glitter for a fancy dress costume or an event, or get crafty adding glitter to something. But I never realised that this little bit of fun and something that I love was actually doing so much damage to our environment.

I had never thought about it before until I went to New Scientist Live this year and realised that glitter is actual a micro plastic!

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What is a microplastic?

Quite simply it is an extremely small, barely visible piece of plastic debris of 5mm of less in length. They usually arise from the disposal and breakdown of other plastic pollutants or it could be directly from our homes when we wash synthetic clothes or wash our faces with micro bead containing face scrubs for example. Some estimates have placed the number of microplastics in the ocean at up to 51 trillion fragments!

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How is it affecting our environment?

We all know the impact that plastic is having on our planet – if you’re in any doubt about how severe this is then I highly recommend that you watch the documentary ‘Drowning in Plastic’ by the BBC. It was terrifyingly eye-opening!

But what about the impact of microplastics?

The size of these plastic fragments makes them a dangerously appealing food item for many animals. In the aforementioned documentary, they shared that microplastics had been found in plankton and mussels but also in the faeces of a walrus! And we have all seen images of animals the size of whales who have washed up on the beach having consumed so much plastic. But the worrying thing about microplastics is that they are in our food chain! The fact that I might have washed the glitter off my face after a party and it end up in the oceans and being consumed by food I might eat is terrifying. Microplastics were shown recently to be in human poop for the first time ever and they have been shown to be in our soft drinks too! So, this isn’t something that is going to affect you in a few years time. This is happening now!

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So, what about glitter?

These tiny particles, much like microbeads, are not a result of bigger plastics breaking down. These are specifically manufactured for cosmetic purposes. With a microbead ban coming into force next year in the UK, glitter could also be an overlooked component due to it’s use in a wide variety of products. Just think about all the other products you might own that has some glitter in it – Bubble bath? Shower gel? Body sprays? And so on.

Most glitter is made of aluminium and a plastic called PET – which when broken down releases chemicals that disrupts the hormones of the marine life, and eventually us as it is in our food chain, and some are linked to the onset of cancers and neurological problems too.

The self-confessed glitter lover that I am and I never realised what impact it was having. I never knew it was made out of plastic. I don’t know what I thought it was made up of but I never imagined my love of all things sparkly could be having such an impact.

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So what can we do about it?

Well – simply would could just stop using all these products. No more sparkly crafts. No more glitter at festivals and parties. No more lotions and potions to make your skin shimmer.

But what if you could still get your glittery fix with less impact on the environment? I for one don’t want a life with no glitter – how miserable would that be?! So instead I am switching to biodegradable glitter and only buying products that has environmentally friendly glitter in them – Lush is one company that has pledged to do that!

But for all your festival, fancy dress and craft needs, I would recommend the amazing Eco Glitter Fun who make biodegradable glitter to help combat this environmental issue. I sat down with their founder Sophie Awdry for a quick fire Q+A about their glitter and their business:

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Tell us a little bit more about you and your background.

Sophie: I have a BSc Chemistry but never did anything with it, instead I went out to the Middle East and was a corporate flight attendant there and in UK for 12 years. I’ve always wanted to have my own business and contribute to the world in some way. I had a few ideas but once I found this I knew it was the one and went for it! 18 months later I cannot believe how far we’ve come.

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Out of all the plastic items that are causing pollution, why did you pick glitter?

Sophie: Being someone who loves festivals and clubbing I was horrified to discover glitter was a micro plastic. It was something that I had never though about before. Once I discovered that biodegradable glitter existed but no one knew about it, I was determined to start my business and tell the world.

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Has there been any recent news about microplastic that you have found particularly alarming?

Sophie: Everyday in the news there seems to be shocking. The recent discovery of micro plastic in human stools is pretty horrifying. A couple of years ago I found out about that there were micro plastics in fish and seafood, so it became one of the reasons not to eat it anymore.

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Do you have any facts and figures about the amount of damage glitter or other microplastics are having?

Sophie: This report is extremely detailed in explaining the micro plastic issue and where the majority of micro plastic pollution comes from. Glitter pollution is small in comparison to other polluters, however it is something that can be switched easily for biodegradable alternative.

Damage is impossible to quantify, however it has being found in everything from bottled water to the guts of seals who live in the Arctic, nothing seems to be untouched.

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How does your glitter biodegrade?

Sophie: Once it enters the natural environment such as a farmer’s field, waste water or river water, microbes will consume the biodegradable content turning it into carbon dioxide, water and biomass.

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What inspired you to set up the company Eco Glitter Fun?

Sophie: Once I found out that regular glitter was a micro plastic I knew that this was an easy switch people could make. Its also a fun and engaging way to help educate and bring awareness on the need to reduce overall plastic consumption in everyday life.

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Is there a product you would love to add to the shop soon or in the future?

Sophie: We are collaborating with a hair products company at the moment so excited where that will lead. Its all top secret at the moment though I’m afraid!!

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Do you have any words of advice for any budding entrepreneurs out there?

Sophie: Find a buddy who compliments your skills and go for it! My business partner Noemi has totally different skills to me and it makes the business work really well. Starting up your own business is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, what everyone says is true! You will often work 16hrs a day and make a lot of sacrifices, so its great to have someone to share the highs and support the lows. Its very satisfying to watch something grow and exceed your original expectations.

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What is the one thing that scares you most about microplastics?

Sophie: The scariest things is they are almost impossible to remove from our oceans. All we can do now is prevent more from entering.

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And what do you think we can all do to stop that?

Sophie: Bring a refillable bottle, bag and cup when you leave home. Choose items when shopping which aren’t wrapped in plastic. Having plastic-free packaging gives us the opportunity to help get our message across that small changes can be made without compromising on design or aesthetic.
Long term, a solution for tyre pollution needs to be addressed. Commercial fishing is also another huge plastic polluter and does horrendous damage to sea life.

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Bit of an odd one but a question I ask at the end of all of my interviews – where in the world should I be travelling to next?

Sophie: Having be fortunate enough to go to a lot of weird and wonderful places I would say a trip to Lijang in China. It has absolutely stunning natural scenery. The old town is like stepping back in time, its famous for its ancient architecture and waterways. Plus the food is delicious!

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So, it’s time to start making that change! For your Christmas parties, birthday celebrations, next year’s music festivals or your craft nights with the kids – make sure to stock up on some biodegradable glitter from Eco Glitter Fun now! Follow this link and get a discount with my discount code until the end of 2018! Don’t miss out!

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Soph talks science is in the running for Best Education blog in the UK Blog Awards 2019Β and voting is open now! I would really love it if you could help me take the next step in my attempt to retain my crown byΒ clicking here to voteΒ for Soph talks science. All you need to do is scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the heart next to my blog name! It would be the best end to 2018 if you helped me get through to the next round. Thanks in advance everyone! xx

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Are you a lover of all things glitz and sparkle like me? Did you realise glitter was such a environmental issue? If you have any questions about microplastics, glitter or where you can get your eco-friendly glitter then please email me, DM me or share it in the comments.

If you enjoyed this post, then please hit like, write a comment or share it with your family and friends for them to discover the joys of science too. I would really mean so much to me. Or you can always subscribe to Soph talks science in the menu to never miss out on any science inspiration and curiosity ever again.

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Science love.

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Disclaimer: this post does contain some affiliate links and if you purchase anything through them, I may earn a small commission. Images are courtesy of Eco Glitter Fun. See their Instagram for specific image credits.

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