Scientists Want Glitter Banned Because It’s An Environmental Hazard: Here’s What You Need To Know About Microplastics

By Carl Velasco | Nov 30, 2017 06:44 AM EST

Glitter might seem like a harmless decorative material, but it actually poses critical environmental hazards — and scientists want them banned.

Glitter can be quite impossible to remove when it sticks to skin, and on land, they're a pain to get rid off and clean. But it can also cause problems in Earth's oceans, according to scientists.

The problem is glitter, or most of it, is made of plastic, and the small size of its particles means it's potentially an ecological hazard, especially in oceans.

"I think all glitter should be banned, because it's microplastic," said Dr.Trisia Farrelly, Massey University environmental anthropologist.

Glitter Is Dangerous: Here's Why

For the uninitiated, microplastics are made up of fragments less than 5 millimeters in length. Because of their extremely small size, many animals, particularly marine life, find them appealing. Obviously, they don't have a way of knowing that microplastics are dangerous for them.

The National Ocean Service says "plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our ocean and Great Lakes," and that it comes in different shapes and sizes. But only those measuring less than 5 millimeters are considered as microplastics.

Fish or other sea animals consume glitter, and because most glitter is made up of aluminum and a type of plastic that releases a dangerous chemical, they are dangerous to both marine animals and the people who eat them.

Microbeads, another type of microplastic, have already been banned from cosmetics and personal care products in the United States years ago, and a similar law will be passed in the UK in 2018. Glitter should be banned next, scientists think, especially because they are ubiquitous in many items, such as cosmetics, that end up being washed away.

A Ban On Glitter Might Not Be Necessary

But glitter fans shouldn't frown. There are other ways to make glitter so as not to cause environmental hazards. It's possible, for instance, to make glitter that's made of biodegradable material. Not only does that mean it won't cause environmental harm, but it'll be less of a pain to remove from one's face.

Exactly how much glitter pollutes the ocean remains hard to determine — scientists who study these kinds of phenomenon look at microplastics as a whole, not at specific types. Furthermore, the impacts of microplastics on humans are still being actively researched, according to Sherri Mason, a chemist at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

Whether banning it entirely or switching to better alternatives, Mason says people should "be thinking more consciously about our use of these materials."

Glitter is a staple of costume parties, birthdays, games, fun. But Mason thinks glitter isn't necessary.

"You can have a very happy childhood without having glitter."

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