All that glitters is not gold: UK retailers scrap glitter for Christmas

Every year at Christmas in the UK, an additional 3 million tonnes of rubbish is thrown away compared with the rest of the year, including many forms of microplastic. These small shards of plastic, some so miniscule they are not visible to the naked eye, currently represent one of the largest anthropogenic threats to marine […]

Isabel Lamb
1st November 2020

Every year at Christmas in the UK, an additional 3 million tonnes of rubbish is thrown away compared with the rest of the year, including many forms of microplastic.

These small shards of plastic, some so miniscule they are not visible to the naked eye, currently represent one of the largest anthropogenic threats to marine life, polluting habitats and scarring life in all of the world’s oceans and many of its rivers.

Microplastics can lead to decreased survival for many marine species

As human populations grow around the world, the amount of microplastics found in marine ecosystems also increases. The greater the population increase in an area, the more microplastics are being found. This can have terrible effects on the species that live in these areas as they either directly consume the microplastics or, for larger species, eat those who have previously ingested them.

Sometimes microplastics pass through the organism leaving it unharmed, but more often than not they accumulate with associated toxins in organs and tissues.

This can cause internal injuries, fertility and growth problems, and psychological stress, leading to a decreased survival rate for many marine species.

Scientists are concerned about the mass release of glitter into waterways after concerts, festivals and national celebrations

One common product that contains microplastics and contributes to this damage is glitter, which is found in many body paints and cosmetic products like nail polish, as well as arts and craft items.

Scientists appear less concerned about the everyday use of glitter in small quantities, and more concerned about the mass release of glitter washed into waterways after events such as concerts, festivals, and national celebrations that create large amounts of microplastic litter.

Credit: Etienne Girardet via Unsplash.

It's no surprise then, that in the run up to the festive period this year, many major British retailers, including Morrisons, Waitrose, and John Lewis, have pledged to remove glitter from their shelves this holiday season.

An anti-glitter policy may only apply to own-brand products

However, this only applies to own-brand products, and for some retailers, only to single-use products such as cards and crackers. Morrisons have also announced that they will be applying this anti-glitter policy to ranges outside of their annual Christmas one.

Hopefully, this move by big players in the UK’s retail market will raise awareness about the environmental issues glitter causes. It is hoped that this will also encourage businesses outside the retail sector, in areas such as events and marketing, to reconsider their use of glitter in packaging, products, and celebrations of all kinds.

Credit: Freestocks via Unsplash

For individuals looking to tackle the problems of glitter litter, there are currently several biodegradable alternatives to glitter available to buy.

Biodegradable alternatives cause similar issues for marine life as less eco-friendly glitter

However, at present, the science suggests that these cause similar issues for marine life as less ‘eco-friendly,’ traditional types of glitter, meaning there is little cause for optimism about their use as a replacement.

Even though the occasional use of glitter by a single person is less of a worry than so called ‘glitter bombs’ or mass releases of glitter, those looking to have a positive impact on the environment might want to ensure that they wipe away and then bin any glitter on themselves or surfaces that can be easily cleaned, rather than wash glitter down the sink where it can easily enter marine habitats and ecosystems.

Featured Image: David Martin via Unsplash

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