The truth about glitter

From homemade cards created in nursery, to home decor, to our festival make-up looks, glitter has been something that has always been around and I’ve never really given thought to. Until recently. Firstly did you know glitter is actually a plastic? A microplastic to be exact, that environmentalists say is making its way into our seas and affecting marine life.

What exactly is glitter?

First things first, let’s look at what glitter actually is. Glitter is made from plastic sheets and used in a wide array of products, including cosmetics. When washed down the drain, glitter becomes a subset of marine plastic litter known as microplastic.

What harm can microplastics do?

Microplastics, which measure less than five millimeters in length, are found throughout the world’s oceans, from the surface to the deep sea floor. They are consumed by plankton, fish, shellfish, seabirds, and other marine life. Plastic bits collect in birds’ stomachs, where they can cause them to die of starvation. Scientists have become increasingly concerned about its effects on fish and other marine life.

In 2018 the UK outlawed microbeads in makeup and personal care products, including the type of glitter used in some rinse-off cosmetics. A similar ban in the US in 2015 applied only to exfoliants.

What about biodegradable glitter?

There are currently lots of alternatives to traditional plastic glitter being developed and used. But be careful with what you choose, as something marketed as ‘biodegradable’ might not actually biodegrade in a natural environment.

Compostable glitter does not biodegrade in nature. Thinking that compostable glitter is good for the environment is a terrible misconception that needs to be corrected quickly! In order to be recycled, compostable glitter requires specific temperatures, the right pressure and the correct bacteria environment so that it actually biodegrades. Unfortunately, this does not occur in the natural environment making compostable glitter to remain basically unaltered, just like a plastic-based one would normally do.

PLA (polylactic acid) glitter is actually pretty bad too. It is a polymer made from high levels of polylactic acid molecules, the polymer needs water to be broken up and make PLA compostable and biodegradable in a process called hydrolysis. Also, hydrolysis needs high temperature and moisture to be able to occur, otherwise PLA items will not biodegrade; they need to be exposed to heat and moisture. They can remain unchanged for decades and centuries like micro-plastics.

Cellophane-based glitter - Before you make any attempt to buy this type of glitter, you should know that cellophane does not have good enough biodegradability to even get certified. Although it has been around for years, cellophane-based glitter cannot get certified to biodegrade because of its chemical structure.

Cellulose acetate glitter - Cellulose acetate is the same ingredient used to make cigarette butts… Do you really need to know more?

How do I know if glitter is really biodegradable?

You want to check two things when looking for a naturally biodegradable glitter;

  1. It actually biodegrades in nature

  2. It should biodegrade in around 90% or more

At Six Seven Twenty we believe in keeping things natural and have pledged to be 100% plastic free - that means no glitter for us! All our wax melts are instead decorated with dried flowers and botanicals that are kind to the planet and naturally beautiful.

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