The latest “glitter ban” hubbub appears to have been prompted by a British child-care provider, which said in a recent blog that the more than 2,000 children under the chain’s care would no longer be using plastic craft glitter.
An alarming news item began to make the rounds in November, just in time to ruin the holidays: Glitter is not good for the environment, and some people are trying to ban it.
It’s partly true. Some scientists are talking more about the dangers posed by the sparkles used in children’s crafts and some cosmetics. Most glitter is made with plastic, and when it drifts into a landfill or down a drain, it can become a microplastic pollutant. Those small pieces of plastic are not always caught by water filters, so they seep into oceans, lakes and rivers.
But if you want to make a shimmering snowflake for the holidays this year, don’t worry. You won’t be on the wrong side of the law.
People are still using glitter for celebration. And for revenge. And for protest: Gay-rights activists have glitter-bombed conservative politicians, including Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich.
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The latest “glitter ban” hubbub appears to have been prompted by Tops Day Nurseries, a British child-care provider. In a Nov. 16 blog post, the nursery chain said the more than 2,000 children under its care would no longer be using plastic craft glitter.
“Glitter enters the environment by landfill, through the air being blown around,” it said. “It sticks to people’s hands and goes down the sink into the water system, it sticks to people’s clothes or mops, which go through the washing machine, and out into the water system.”
Sue Kinsey, the senior pollution-policy officer for the Marine Conservation Society, a British charity, said she was happy to see citizens taking steps to protect the environment, but she would not encourage legislators to ban craft glitter in Britain.
“That would possibly be a little bit Draconian,” she said.
British lawmakers are, however, working to phase out something similar to glitter: microbeads, those little plastic particles that are used as exfoliants in cleansing products. In 2015, the United States passed a law to phase out microbeads.
But has the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which helped lawmakers shape that legislation, ever paid special attention to glitter alone?
“Not specifically,” said Amy V. Uhrin, chief scientist of NOAA’s Marine Debris Division, adding that news reports in recent weeks had brought the issue to her attention. “Because it is a microplastic, we would have the same concerns as we would with any other microplastic that ends up in the environment.”
Joel Baker, a marine-pollution expert at the University of Washington, Tacoma, said glitter is just one of the many, many types of plastics that pollute waterways. But one thing sets it apart from other pollutants: It sticks around, conspicuously, in the most unwanted places.
“A little bit of glitter goes a long way. Weeks after a kid’s birthday party, there’s still glitter all over your car,” he said.
So maybe that’s a reason to ban the sparkly stuff.
“Could we have had a happy childhood without glitter? Yes,” said Sherri A. Mason, the geology and environmental-sciences department chairwoman at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who has done extensive research on plastic pollution in freshwater.
She said that glitter, like any other plastic particles, can carry chemicals that are ingested by small creatures and then make their way up the food chain.
But consumers who want to cut down on microplastic waste don’t have to lead a dull existence, because all that glitters is not plastic. You can make sparkly stuff out of degradable materials, and some companies have started to do that.
Mason said that while plastic glitter is popular around the holidays, it’s not necessary.
“Yes, there are going to be pains associated with reducing our use of plastic, but we have to think beyond ourselves,” she added. “This isn’t about your New Year’s celebration. It’s about humanity, and our ability to survive as a species.”