Scientists Warn That Glitter Is Harming the Environment

As the U.K. prepares to enact a ban on microplastics, scientists wonder if it should include glitter.

Scientists have acknowledged what parents of young children have known for decades: glitter is an environmental hazard.

If glitter seems to live on for years after a single ill-considered craft project, it’s not your imagination: Modern glitter made from foil and plastics not only sticks to everything due to static electricity, it does not disintegrate and eventually ends up in the world’s oceans.

“I think all glitter should be banned, because it’s microplastic,” Dr. Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist at Massey University, told The Independent.

The U.S. partially banned the most notorious microplastics — microbeads in cosmetic products — in 2015, and the U.K. will follow suit in 2018 with a full ban. Microbeads were once a popular additive to exfoliating facial scrubs and body washes, but soon were found to clog wastewater treatment plants, sully freshwater reservoirs, and end up in the stomachs of unsuspecting marine life that mistook the tiny particles for prey. In fact, one study found plastics in one-third of all fish caught in Great Britain.

Though craft glitter — the kind probably lodged somewhere deep in your carpet right now — will still be legal under the U.K.’s 2018 ban, glitter in cosmetics such as body lotion and body wash will be considered microbeads and therefore phased out.

“When people think about glitter they think of party and dress-up glitter,” said Farrelly. “But glitter includes cosmetic glitters as well, the more everyday kind that people don’t think about as much.”

The plastic used to make cosmetic glitter is often made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, notorious for releasing hormone-disrupting chemicals that can cause cancer and birth defects in both people and animals who ingest it.

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