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Why Glitter Must Be Banned


Glitter may be fun for a party, but it's a nightmare for
human and animal health.
By Daniel Ross / AlterNet November 3, 2017, 11:30 PM GMT

36 COMMENTS

All that glitters aint gold, or so the old


adage goes. And when it comes to the
glitter used in everyday cosmetics,
specialty make-up, hair products and
party paraphernalia, the negative
effects on human health and the
environment are indeed far from
golden.
When washed or flushed away, microplastics enter

They really do get into everything, waterways, creating all sorts of health and

and despite their tiny size, they can environmental hazards.

have a devastating impact on humans Photo Credit: Oleg Gekman/Shutterstock

and non-human animals, wrote Trisia


Farrelly, a social anthropologist at Massey University in New Zealand and an
expert in waste plastics, in an email to AlterNet.

Glitter is one member of a large family of microplasticstiny little bits of plastic


less than five millimeters in size. Think microbeads, microfibers and fingernail-
sized fragments of much larger plastic wastes that have broken down over time.
When washed or flushed away, microplastics make their way into our oceans and
great lakes, slowly accumulating over time, creating all sorts of health and
environmental hazards, the full breadth of which is still being grasped.

For one, theres the issue of how microplastics like cosmetic glittermade by
bonding aluminum with polyethylene terephthalate (PET)impact sensitive
ecosystems. Thats because PETs leach out endocrine-disrupting chemicals,
which, when eaten by marine life, can cause adverse developmental,
reproductive, neurological, and immune effects, said Farrelly. In this recent
study, microplastics are shown to significantly impact the reproduction rates of
oysters.

Then theres the domino-like effect of microplastics through the food-chain, for
the sheer volume of microplastics consumed by seafood-loving humans is
staggering. This study from the University of Ghent found that Europeans who
eat shellfish can consume as much as 11,000 microplastics per year. But what are
some of the long-term implications from glitter passing through the food-chain?

PETs attract and absorb persistent organic pollutants and pathogens, adding an
extra layer of contamination. When those at the bottom of the ladderlike
molluscs, sea snails, marine worms, and planktoneat pathogen or pollutant-
carrying particles of glitter, these minuscule poison pills can concentrate in
toxicity as they move up the food chain, all the way to our dinner plates, said
Farrelly.

When we eat Kai moana [Maori term for seafood], we are taking on these
toxins, she wrote. When they enter the gut, the toxins and pathogens are very
easily taken up.

A growing body of research is shining a light on the resulting effects of these


toxins and pathogens on humans. Studies connect endocrine disrupting
chemicals with marine and freshwater fish population collapses, as well
as declines in sex ratios in human populations that live adjacent to plastic
factories.

All of which is prompting many marine experts and environmentalists to


advocate for the same ban on glitter as there has been on microbeadsthe tiny
little balls of plastic used in things like exfoliating beauty products.

At the rate we are going, there could be one pound of plastic for every three
pounds of finfish in the ocean in the next ten years, wrote Nick Mallos, director
of Ocean Conservancys Trash Free Seas Program, in an email. And unless action
is taken, the problem is only going to get bigger.

At the end of 2015 after a sustained campaign at the state level, the Obama
administration signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act, banning plastic
microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. Other countries have
subsequently followed suit. The U.K. and New Zealand announced their own
prohibitions on microbeads earlier this year.
Importantly, these bans arent necessarily a reflection of the singular impact
from microbeads. Rather, theyre a nod to a much wider understanding of the
pervasiveness in the environment of microplastics in general, for the amount of
microplastics entering the ocean alone is staggering. According to estimates
made in 2014, there are between 15 and 51 trillion microplastic particles,
weighing between 93 and 236 thousand metric tons, sitting in the worlds seas.

Whats more, their impacts are myriad.

A number of studies have shown that


tiny plastic particles have been
detected in sea salts sold commercially.
In an interview with the Guardian,
Sherri Mason, a professor at the State
University of New York at Fredonia who
led one of these studies, described
plastics as being ubiquitous in the air,
water, the seafood we eat, the beer we
drink, the salt we useplastics are just everywhere. Microfibers have even been
found in honey.

Microplastic had also made their way into 83 percent of tap water samples from
more than a dozen countries around the world including India, Lebanon, France
and Germany, according to an investigation by Orb Media. The U.S. languished at
the bottom of the pile, with plastic fibers appearing in 94 percent of samples.

But microplastics comprise only a fraction of the global plastic pollution problem.
The worlds oceans are pockmarked, for example, with massive clusters of
marine debris and plasticsthe Great Pacific Garbage Patch found in the North
Pacific Ocean proving to be the largest such gyre. According to the U.N., more
than 8 million tons of plastic makes its way into the ocean each yearequal to a
garbage truck of plastic dumped every minute.

Data shows that rapidly developing economies, where population growth and
consumption are outpacing waste collection and recycling capacity, are
responsible for the largest amounts of plastic wastes entering the oceans, said
Nick Mallos. And he warned that, without intervention, growing economies
would likely exacerbate these unintended consequences of development
spread. Still, he remains optimistic.

By raising awareness of the issue of ocean plastic, Mallos wrote, we can curb
the flow through reduced consumption, improved waste management and
innovative product and material solutions.

Daniel Ross is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in


AlterNet, The Guardian, FairWarning, Newsweek, and a number of other
publications.

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