Why We Should Ban Glitter, Just Like We Banned Microbeads

This woman looks cool, but once she showers that glitter off, it goes down the drain and out into the oceans, where it contributes to the plastification of our seas. . (Photo: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock)

The confetti and glitter is still all over the place. Thrown in the air for the perfect graduation or wedding photographs, and the teeny tiny colorful pieces litter the ground.

Eventually, it will rain, and all those little pieces of plastic will wash into the storm drains. Eventually, they'll travel into the ocean.

Despite bans on plastic bags and the recent ban on microbeads in the U.S., plenty of similar plastics end up in our oceans. Like glitter, they contribute to the 800 tons of plastic that make their way into the ocean each year.

Glitter is made up of plastic and aluminum bonded with polyethylene terephtalate (PET), said Trisia Farrelly, a social anthropologist at Massey University in New Zealand, in this NZ Stuff piece. She researches plastic waste and confirmed what we all know: Glitter gets into everything, even water filtration systems. She says it should be banned like microbeads.

Fish with a side of glitter

Jars of glitter
When glitter is applied to your hair or skin and washed off in the shower, it goes down the drain and out into waterways where fish may eat it. (Photo: Tarzhanova/Shutterstock)

Glitter is especially problematic in products that are applied to skin and washed off in the shower. "These are literally 'down the drain' products. You put it on and you wash it off. They are made to be disposed of," said Farrelly.

Once that stuff washes into oceans or lakes, some of the glitter gets eaten by fish that we consume. (Shrimp cocktail with glitter, anyone?)

Due to the chemical structure of plastics, they not only take hundreds of years to break down, they also collect toxins from the surrounding seawater, turning them into little balls of chemicals. Those endocrine-disrupting chemicals work their way into the animals that eat them, and then into us.

All that has led those who are trying to keep plastics out the ocean to suggest a glitter ban. "Start with microbeads, fine, but don't stop there. It would be ridiculous to do so. It's a no-brainer for glitter and microfibers, we have to stop producing them," said Farrelly.

But what about edible glitter?

edible glitter food
Sure glittery food may look pretty, but is there any benefit from actually eating it?. (Photo: antonella82/Shutterstock.com)

While you may not like the idea of eating glitter with your grilled salmon, others are jumping at the chance to eat (and drink) glitter. The latest food trend is edible glitter, and several restaurants and bakeries are adding it to everything from pizza and beer to lattes and pastries.

And yes, there is a difference between edible glitter and nontoxic glitter used for crafts. While regular glitter is composed of plastic and metal, edible glitter mainly consists of sugar, cornstarch, mica-based pigments and other ingredients. But just because it's edible, should you really eat it and why would you?

Social media could be to blame. Jen Sagawa, the vice president of innovation for cake supply company Wilton, told the Washington Post that the company has seen an increase in sales of its edible glitter. She believes it's because of Instagram. "You want to make your images stand out, frankly," she said. It “makes it feel a little more special, and they can get more likes from it."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer alert to help people determine if they are in fact eating edible glitter. By law, any company that sells glitter as food has to list the ingredients on the label. If the product doesn't have an ingredients label or says nontoxic, then it is not edible and should not be consumed.

So yes technically, edible glitter is safe to eat and will eventually dissolve. But what message are we sending overall if we choose to ingest edible glitter just for some Instagram likes?

Glitter alternatives

Green glitter on hands
There are ways to get that glittery shimmer without metals and plastics. (Photo: Yarmolovych/Shutterstock)

But if you're a glitter fan, don't worry. There are ways to make non-plastic, biodegradable glitter. LUSH uses mica-and mineral-based ingredients to make glitters, "as well as natural starch-based lusters." You can check what causes the glitter in your products by reading labels.

"To avoid being a part of the microplastics problem, start by checking the labels of all your cosmetics to determine if they contain any plastic-based materials. They’re often listed as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP)," advises LUSH.