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Why Glitter Must Be Banned

Why Glitter Must Be Banned

All that glitters ain’t gold, or so the old adage goes. And when it comes to the glitter used in everyday cosmetics, specialty make-up, hair products and party paraphernalia, the negative effects on human health and the environment are indeed far from golden.

“They really do get into everything, and despite their tiny size, they can have a devastating impact on humans and non-human animals,” wrote Trisia Farrelly, a social anthropologist at Massey University in New Zealand and an expert in waste plastics, in an email to AlterNet.

Glitter is one member of a large family of microplastics—tiny little bits of plastic less than five millimeters in size. Think microbeads, microfibers and fingernail-sized fragments of much larger plastic wastes that have broken down over time. When washed or flushed away, microplastics make their way into our oceans and great lakes, slowly accumulating over time, creating all sorts of health and environmental hazards, the full breadth of which is still being grasped.

For one, there’s the issue of how microplastics like cosmetic glitter—made by bonding aluminum with polyethylene terephthalate (PET)—impact sensitive ecosystems. That’s because PETs leach out endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which, when eaten by marine life, can cause adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune effects, said Farrelly. In this recent study, microplastics are shown to significantly impact the reproduction rates of oysters.

Then there’s the domino-like effect of microplastics through the food-chain, for the sheer volume of microplastics consumed by seafood-loving humans is staggering. This study from the University of Ghent found that Europeans who eat shellfish can consume as much as 11,000 microplastics per year. But what are some of the long-term implications from glitter passing through the food-chain?

PETs attract and absorb persistent organic pollutants and pathogens, adding an extra layer of contamination. When those at the bottom of the ladder—like molluscs, sea snails, marine worms, and plankton—eat pathogen or pollutant-carrying particles of glitter, these minuscule poison pills can concentrate in toxicity as they move up the food chain, all the way to our dinner plates, said Farrelly.

“When we eat Kai moana [Maori term for seafood], we are taking on these toxins,” she wrote. “When they enter the gut, the toxins and pathogens are very easily taken up.”

A growing body of research is shining a light on the resulting effects of these toxins and pathogens on humans. Studies connect endocrine disrupting chemicals with marine and freshwater fish population collapses, as well as declines in sex ratios in human populations that live adjacent to plastic factories.

All of which is prompting many marine experts and environmentalists to advocate for the same ban on glitter as there has been on microbeads—the tiny little balls of plastic used in things like exfoliating beauty products.

“At the rate we are going, there could be one pound of plastic for every three pounds of finfish in the ocean in the next ten years,” wrote Nick Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Program, in an email. “And unless action is taken, the problem is only going to get bigger.”

At the end of 2015 after a sustained campaign at the state level, the Obama administration signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act, banning plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. Other countries have subsequently followed suit. The U.K. and New Zealand announced their own prohibitions on microbeads earlier this year.

Importantly, these bans aren’t necessarily a reflection of the singular impact from microbeads. Rather, they’re a nod to a much wider understanding of the pervasiveness in the environment of microplastics in general, for the amount of microplastics entering the ocean alone is staggering. According to estimates made in 2014, there are between 15 and 51 trillion microplastic particles, weighing between 93 and 236 thousand metric tons, sitting in the world’s seas.

What’s more, their impacts are myriad

.A number of studies have shown that tiny plastic particles have been detected in sea salts sold commercially. In an interview with the Guardian, Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia who led one of these studies, described plastics as being “ubiquitous in the air, water, the seafood we eat, the beer we drink, the salt we use—plastics are just everywhere.” Microfibers have even been found in honey.

Microplastic had also made their way into 83 percent of tap water samples from more than a dozen countries around the world including India, Lebanon, France and Germany, according to an investigation by Orb Media. The U.S. languished at the bottom of the pile, with plastic fibers appearing in 94 percent of samples.

But microplastics comprise only a fraction of the global plastic pollution problem. The world’s oceans are pockmarked, for example, with massive clusters of marine debris and plastics—the Great Pacific Garbage Patch found in the North Pacific Ocean proving to be the largest such gyre. According to the U.N., more than 8 million tons of plastic makes its way into the ocean each year—equal to a garbage truck of plastic dumped every minute.

Data shows that rapidly developing economies, where population growth and consumption are outpacing waste collection and recycling capacity, are responsible for the largest amounts of plastic wastes entering the oceans, said Nick Mallos. And he warned that, without intervention, growing economies would likely exacerbate these “unintended consequences of development spread.” Still, he remains optimistic.

“By raising awareness of the issue of ocean plastic,” Mallos wrote, “we can curb the flow through reduced consumption, improved waste management and innovative product and material solutions.”

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

 SOURCE:  EcoWatch

By Daniel Ross




Added 22 November 2017:

Nursery Bans Glitter, Calls on Others to Follow Their Example

By Imogen Calderwood

Glitter is great, right? Particularly now that it’s getting dark and cold and a bit depressing outside.

But, as much as we love glitter for making everything look festive, a chain of children’s nurseries in the UK might actually have a point.

Tops Day Nurseries has decided that glitter has to go, for the sake of the environment.

Just like microbeads—which have now been banned in the UK—glitter is a microplastic that can do “terrible damage” to our seas, oceans, marine life and, ultimately, us too.

Leftovers from children’s art projects wash into the water system, and from there can end up in the food chain, according to the nurseries’ Managing Director Cheryl Hadland.

“You can see when the children are taking their bits of craft home and there’s glitter on the cardboard, it blows off and into the air,” said Hadland, who is in charge of 2,500 children in 19 nurseries across Dorset, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Somerset and Wiltshire.

“There are 22,000 nurseries in the country,” she added, “so if we’re all getting through kilos and kilos of glitter, we’re doing terrible damage.”

But Hadland added that she “loved glitter” and she is trying to find an alternative material for craft sessions.

Marine Conservation Society described it as a “proactive approach” and welcomed the nurseries’ announcement.

Sue Kinsey from the Marine Conservation Society, said: “While glitter is only a small part of the microplastic load getting into watercourses and the sea, steps like these will all add up to something greater.”

Alice Horton, from the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, told the Guardian: “On a small scale, one nursery banning it is unlikely to have any environmental impact, but it’s a good environmental statement to make, like one person choosing not to buy bottled water to reduce plastic bottle waste. [It is] not going to change the world but [it] sets a target for others.”

Microplastics have become a hot topic in the UK, with the government announcing the strictest ban in the world on microbeads to come into force by the end of this year.

The tiny plastics are found in everyday cosmetic products like body scrubs, face washes, toothpaste and cleaning products. And a single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean.

Once plastic gets into the ocean, it acts as a magnet for pollutants. Toxins that wash into bodies of water—for example, agricultural pesticides and chemicals from industrial plants—latch onto plastic. And plastic in the water is then eaten by marine animals.

It is already affecting our food chain. The average person who eats seafood swallows an estimated 11,000 pieces of microplastic every year, according to researchers at the University of Ghent.

Sir David Attenborough has been championing the fight against plastic pollution—which he has described as “heartbreaking.”

“We may think we live a long way from the oceans but we don’t. What we actually do here … has a direct effect on the oceans and what the oceans do then reflects back on us,” he said.

“It is one world. And it’s in our care,” he continued. “For the first time in the history of humanity, for the first time in 500 million years, one species has the future in the palm of its hands. I just hope it realizes that that is the case.”

Global Citizen campaigns for the Global Goals, including to protect our oceans and seas. You can take action with us here.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Global Citizen.

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