Biodegradable glitter has sparked excitement among environmentalists, but is its shimmer truly as green as it seems? Glitter, notorious in the craft world, poses an environmental challenge due to its persistence. Traditional glitter, crafted from plastic composites like PVC, PET, and polyester, can linger in the environment for hundreds of years. The emergence of eco-friendly alternatives, particularly biodegradable glitter, offers hope, but questions linger regarding its authenticity and environmental impact.

Understanding Glitter’s Composition

Regular glitter, comprised of aluminum and plastic composites, poses a significant environmental threat. The plastic-based particles, reflecting light at various angles, contribute to a shimmery appearance. 

Unfortunately, the environmental aftermath of producing glitter sheets for crafts, toys, and fashion necessitates the exploration of eco-friendly alternatives.

New studies highlight the severe impact of microplastics on the environment. Recent research by Australia’s national science agency revealed 9.25m to 15.87m tons of microplastics embedded in the seafloor. Found in Arctic ice and whale stomachs, humans ingest about five grams weekly. 

This awareness led British retailers like Morrisons, Waitrose, and John Lewis to exclude glitter from Christmas products, aligning with the broader anti-microplastic movement. This step follows the UK’s 2018 ban on microbeads in various products, showcasing a commitment to environmental sustainability.

The Problem with Traditional Glitter

Traditional glitter, while aesthetically pleasing, presents a severe environmental challenge. Despite being made from recyclable plastics, its small size hinders recycling. Moreover, plastic-based glitter lacks biodegradability, sinking into water bodies, adding to toxic sludge, and persisting for centuries.

Over the next decade, the influx of waste into water systems, leading to oceans, is projected to range from 22 million to potentially 58 million tons annually. Encouragingly, this estimate considers numerous commitments by governments and industries to combat plastic pollution. However, absent these pledges, a status quo scenario would be nearly twice as detrimental. In the absence of enhanced waste management practices, a staggering 99 million tons of unregulated plastic waste could contaminate the environment by 2030.

Unveiling the Environmental Impact

Beyond its attractive sheen, regular glitter qualifies as a microplastic, contributing significantly to environmental pollution. Studies indicate that glitter, constituting less than 1% of microplastics, adversely affects soils and serves as a source of nano plastics, which can penetrate living cells. Glitter’s sharp designs pose additional threats to wildlife. The researchers delved into the consequences of various PET and non-plastic glitters on freshwater ecosystems, a common destination for glitter.

Navigating Biodegradable Glitter

Eco-friendly craft glitter has emerged as a potential solution, often using cellulose from eucalyptus trees. However, concerns arise as even the best alternatives may exhibit environmental impacts. Mica, a common component in eco-friendly glitter, has been found to alter sediment content in freshwater habitats, emphasizing the need for thorough scrutiny.

One study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials compared the effects of conventional non-biodegradable glitter (polyethylene terephthalate) with alternative glitters (modified regenerated cellulose, mica or synthetic mica) on freshwater habitats. After 36 days, glitter showed no impact on overall assemblage structure or diversity, but MRC glitter increased mud snail abundance. 

Duckweed root length and phytoplankton biomass decreased with any glitter exposure, while synthetic mica increased sediment chlorophyll content. Results suggest both conventional and alternative glitters can affect aquatic ecosystems, with specific impacts on various components.

The Elusive Biodegradability

Various forms of glitter claim to be biodegradable, including Modified Regenerated Cellulose (MRC), Cellulose Acetate (CA), Cellophane, Compostable glitter, Mica & Synthetic Mica, and PLA glitter. However, challenges persist, ranging from varying degradation rates to potential skin irritations. Certifying true biodegradability remains a complex task.

A Critical Look at Biodegradable Glitter Brands

Bioglitter™ stands out as a brand committed to genuine biodegradability. 

Bioglitter’s appearance bears the sole resemblance to plastic glitter; however, Bioglitter®, developed by Ronald Britton Ltd, a UK company now owned by Sigmund Lindner GmbH since May 2023, is rooted in entirely different materials.

Proven through OECD301 biodegradability testing, along with ISO14851 and ISO14852 freshwater biodegradability testing of the entire product (core and coating), Bioglitter® swiftly biodegrades into harmless substances in the natural environment.

Bioglitter® is specifically crafted for rapid and safe biodegradation in natural freshwater environments, supported by TÜV OK biodegradable WATER certification, providing customers with a transparent indication of its eco-friendly attributes. This certification, endorsed by six of the seven Bioglitter® product ranges, stands as one of the highest standards globally.

Emphasizing a commitment to clarity amid ambiguous claims about plastic content and biodegradability, the company believes that OK biodegradable WATER certification effectively addresses such confusion. Furthermore, the ISO14851 and ISO14852 tests integral to this certification align with the specifications proposed by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) for the upcoming EU Microplastic legislation in 2022. These tests play a crucial role in determining whether a polymeric material qualifies as a microplastic.

Their products, PURE, SPARKLE, and HOLO ranges, undergo testing by ISO14851, ISO14852, and TÜV Austria, ensuring freshwater biodegradability. While skepticism exists, these products claim to break down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass within a month.

Truly, Bioglitter® underlines its dedication to environmental responsibility, discouraging indiscriminate outdoor glitter use and reinforcing that biodegradability doesn’t excuse littering.

Exploring Future Innovations

Researchers are exploring non-plastic glitter alternatives inspired by nature, leveraging “structural coloration.” The glitter is created from cellulose nanocrystals, utilizing a process known as structural colour, which is capable of producing vibrant, long-lasting colours.

Mimicking nature’s brilliance seen in butterfly wings and peacock feathers, this sustainable alternative avoids the environmental impact associated with conventional glitters. With roll-to-roll processes similar to paper production, the team achieved industrial-scale fabrication of cellulose nanocrystal films.

This breakthrough offers a sustainable replacement for the 5,500 tons of microplastics annually used in Europe’s cosmetics industry, addressing growing environmental concerns. The study is detailed in the journal Nature Materials.

These innovations aim to eliminate toxic pigments, reduce energy consumption during manufacturing, and potentially use byproducts of the food industry.

Sustainable Alternatives and Final Thoughts on Biodegradable Glitter

Crafting your DIY eco-friendly glitter from materials like sea salt, sand, raw sugar, colored rice, or recycled glass glitter can offer sustainable alternatives. Additionally, avoiding glitter-laden products and embracing sustainable practices contribute to minimizing environmental impact.

In conclusion, while biodegradable glitter offers a glimmer of hope, thorough research and scrutiny are essential. Sustainable choices in fashion, festivals, and crafting, combined with innovations in glitter alternatives, pave the way for a truly eco-friendly sparkle in the future. Remember, balance in consumption practices will have a more significant impact on the planet than the fleeting glimmer of glitter.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is biodegradable glitter?

Biodegradable glitter is a type of glitter that is designed to break down naturally in the environment, unlike traditional plastic-based glitter which can take hundreds of years to decompose.

Is biodegradable glitter eco-friendly?

Yes, biodegradable glitter is considered to be more eco-friendly than traditional glitter as it is made from sustainable and biodegradable materials, reducing its impact on the environment.

What are the uses of biodegradable glitter?

Biodegradable glitter can be used for various purposes including arts and crafts, cosmetics, festival decorations, body art, and DIY projects, offering a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional glitter.

How does biodegradable glitter differ from traditional glitter?

Biodegradable glitter is made from plant-based materials and is designed to biodegrade naturally, whereas traditional glitter is often made from plastic and can linger in the environment for a very long time.

Can biodegradable glitter be used for cosmetic purposes?

Yes, biodegradable glitter is suitable for cosmetic use, offering a sustainable and eco-friendly option for adding sparkle and shimmer to body, face, and hair products.

What are the key features of biodegradable glitter?

Biodegradable glitter offers vibrant colors, eco-friendly properties, and the ability to decompose naturally, making it a perfect choice for those looking for environmentally friendly glitter options.

Is biodegradable glitter suitable for large-scale or bulk use?

Yes, biodegradable glitter is available in bulk and can be used for large-scale applications such as event decorations, art projects, and cosmetic manufacturing, providing a sustainable solution for glitter use.

Where can I find biodegradable glitter products?

Biodegradable glitter products can be found through various retailers, both online and in physical stores, offering a sustainable and eco-friendly option for adding sparkle and shimmer to various products and projects.

Are there any regulations or certifications for biodegradable glitter?

Yes, biodegradable glitter may be certified by organizations such as EU or other regulatory bodies, ensuring that it meets specific standards for environmental sustainability and biodegradability.

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