The bitter side to glitter: The environmental consequence of the cosmetics industry


In a month of January blues, new environmental policy has seen optimistic developments for the deepest blue of them all. In the UK, the manufacture of cosmetics that contain plastic microbeads is now prohibited, and a band on sales is planned for July of this year, all with the aim of combating marine pollution.

Plastic is valued for its durability, and yet its greatest asset is also its biggest flaw. The small fragments of plastic that can be currently be found in facial exfoliators, body scrubs and toothpastes flow through drainage systems and accumulate in bodies of water, where they are inevitably digested by fish or crustaceans. A process which can drastically imbalance food chains and alter the living conditions for other organisms, transforming the world’s oceans into unnatural microplastic soup.

A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean.

A 2016 report by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology approximated one third of fish found in the English Channel are contaminated with pieces of this microscopic debris, and Mary Creagh MP of the Environmental Audit Committee has outlined how “a single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean.”  These shocking statistics have extra weighting given the range of alternatives available. ‘Lush’ for instance uses ingredients such as aduki beans, coarse sea salt and bamboo stem extract in their products to create the same effect but with the benefit of biodegradability.

Luckily action has now been taken, and anybody who was mesmerised by the rich visuals and soothing tones of David Attenborough’s widely acclaimed ‘Blue Planet’ series will recognise the vital importance of this top-down decision. It can be difficult as a consumer to navigate through the diversity of ingredients and advertising we are bombarded with, and the government policy has at least anchored responsibility with producers, ensuring that they exercise their power in a non-toxic way.

It’s transforming the world’s oceans into unnatural microplastic soup.

If all of this sounds perfectly reasonable, you may however want to stop to consider your glitter usage. A fashion trend that shows no sign of waning, glitter is made from small flashy pieces of plastic and aluminium which fall under the umbrella of microplastics. Ella Blaxland, the president Durham’s very own Glitter Society has spoken about the impacts of sparkly fun, describing how she is ‘in the process of phasing out all plastic glitter in favour of biodegradable ones’ having only recently come to understand the potential severity of its impacts.

Largely the new ban will cover glitter found in gels and paints, however there is no harm being informed and applying your consumer power to support sustainable and eco-friendly glitter brands this upcoming festival season. Ella praised ‘Wild Glitter’, a vegan and compostable brand that prides itself on being indistinguishable from its detrimental competitors. With pots priced at just £2.75, it appears that making an ethical decision is also an economical one. Other commendable companies include Ecostardust or Guilt-Free-Glitter, both of which allow you to shine aesthetically and morally too.

Photograph: M01229 via Flickr

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