Wildlife affected by “eco-friendly” glitter in new study

eco-friendly glitter
Researchers stress the importance of keeping glitter out of our waterways. Source: unknown (via Pxfuel)
Wildlife is affected by all types of glitter, including those tagged as “eco-friendly” according to a new study.

By Holly Giles | Deputy Editor 

When thinking about festivals many are transported to a muddy field surrounded by tents wearing wellies and having a face covered in glitter. However, more and more studies are coming to light showing the damaging effect of glitter on our ecosystems and the latest work by a team at Anglia Ruskin University is a prime example.

The team created miniature ponds in the laboratory using water, sediments and plants collected from the River Glaven in Norfolk. Six different types of glitter were then added to the ponds so the impact on the ecosystem could be determined. The team added large amounts of glitter to simulate the effect of a festival on the surrounding area.

Traditional glitters are made of a plastic core of polyester PET which is coated with aluminium to make it shiny and then covered with another layer of plastic. This has been reported as releasing large amounts of microplastics into the environment which are taken up by fish and accumulated in the food chain, damaging wildlife. In a recent survey microplastics were found in every UK lake, river and reservoir that was tested showing the prevalence of this problem.

All types of glitter decreased the abundance of common plants and microscopic algae in the ponds.

A particularly concerning finding of the study is that even glitters that are targeted as “eco-friendly” had severe impacts. 

It was announced in 2018 that 61 UK music festivals are banning single use plastic and the use of PET glitter, meaning only biodegradable alternatives will be available at the sites from 2021. However, one type of biodegradable glitters which is made of cellulose and coated with aluminium, increased the abundance of a snail species in the study. 

While this may appear to be a good thing it is concerning for researchers as the snail is a non-native species so an increase in its prevalence could have unknown impacts higher up the food chain. 

Additionally, this study only looked at the effect on the environment 36 days after large amounts of glitter were released, so it is not currently known what the effects will be long-term. 

Many campaigners are worried about the long-term effects of microplastics including the group 38 Degrees who launched a petition in 2019 for glitter to be banned from the UK. The letter to Michael Gove said: “We have no idea what long term effects micro-plastic will have on us, our children or the other animals and plants that share our planet.”

While the prevalence of microplastics is very concerning, it is still possible to wear glitter responsibly, explained senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, Dr Danielle Green:

“If you’re wearing (glitter) as make-up it would be sensible to wipe it off and put it in the bin rather than wash it into our waterways”.

This clear guidance shows wiping our glitter off allows people to wear it at festivals without our environment paying the price. 

Science and Technology Holly Giles

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