All That Glitters is Not Good

Microplastics make their way from oceans to our food.

Last year, a group of 19 British pre-schools decided to stop using glitter in art projects in order to help save the oceans. The reasoning behind the decision is based on the fact that glitter is created from plastic sheets and used in a variety of everyday products including cosmetics. When glitter found on clothing is washed or makeup removed and these tiny bits of sparkling glitter are washed down the drain they enter the environment as a subset of marine plastic litter known as microplastics.

What are microplastics?

Microplastics, which by definition measure less than five millimeters in length, are common throughout the world’s oceans. The tiny plastics can be found everywhere from the surface to the depths of the ocean floor. The problem is that these tiny plastic particles, after spending time in the water, begin to take on algae and an odor that presents much like food and is consumed by nearly 700 forms of marine life including plankton, fish, shellfish, seabirds and a vast array of others.

Glitter is considered a microplastic from its point of creation, but the vast majority of microplastics found in our oceans comes from plastic trash that is broken down into tiny bits from the effects of UV rays combined with the power of wave action. The second most prevalent source of microplastics found in our oceans is the manufactured plastic beads that are associated with cosmetics and personal care items like facial scrubs and toothpaste. Scientists estimate that more than 8 trillion microbeads enter U.S. waters on a daily basis.

Microplastics are working their way into the food chain.

The problem lies in the consumption of microplastics by plankton, anchovies and other marine life who in turn are consumed by larger and larger sea creatures spreading the toxins inherent in the plastic into the food chain and onto people’s plates. Too much garbage in the oceans is leading to what scientists refer to as our oceans being turned into a form of “plastic soup.” Studies on the effects of microplastics are on the rise and there is much to be learned. But, the one hard fact is there is too much plastic pollution in our oceans and the only way to decrease the threat is to better manage what we discard into the environment. If that means using less glitter, we can thank English schoolchildren for raising awareness and making a gesture to help out our over-burdened and polluted ecosystems.