Time to ban glitter - it's just as bad as microbeads, experts say
Microbeads might be on their way out – but have you thought about glitter?
Environment Minister Nick Smith announced earlier this year that cosmetic products containing tiny plastic pieces, known as microbeads, will be banned in July next year.
There are concerns about their impact on the marine environment, because they get through filtration systems and are ingested by marine life.
Foodstuffs has announced it will not stock any microbead products as of July this year.
But Trisia Farrelly, a social anthropologist at Massey University who specialises in research on plastic waste, said that was just the tip of the iceberg.
She said glitter was as much of a problem, and microfibres used in fabrics such as cleaning cloths, were worse.
"Nick Smith announced the Government is no longer going to allow microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products and that's really excellent," she said. "But it doesn't capture the bigger picture of microplastics and the environment."
She said it was estimated there was eight million tonnes of plastic going into the ocean each year.
Glitter was made up of plastic and aluminium, she said, bonded with polyethylene terephtalate (PET). "It's really tiny and gets into everything."
She said it was a problem because it was often used in cosmetics and other products that were intended to be used and thrown away. "These are literally 'down the drain' products. You put it on and you wash it off. They are made to be disposed of."
She said they could leach endocrine disrupting chemicals. "Start with microbeads, fine, but don't stop there. It would be ridiculous to do so. It's a no-brainer for glitter and microfibres, we have to stop producing them."
Julian Bartram, general manager of BodyFX, a company that sells make up, face paint, and special effects products, said he only realised recently that glitter could be a problem when he was asked how it was different from microbeads.
"We've been face painting for 20 years, that's a lot of glitter. Everyone talks about 'glitter covers up mistakes, just add glitter'. I'm a glitter fanatic. My heart sank. There was a month or two when I would have a pit in my stomach every time I went to go face painting, thinking I'm killing a fish every time I put glitter on a kid."
The company now only stocks biodegradable glitter options. "We're taking PET glitter off the shelves."
He said he was emailed every day by people wanting to stock biodegradable glitter.
Bartram said other businesses would be wrong to wait for the Government to take action. "Businesses are the ones who are going to save the environment faster than any government."
A spokeswoman for Foodstuffs said it was aware of the wider issue and had a range of initiatives in place, including soft plastic recycling, the ban on microbeads and the upcoming amnesty at New World, where customers will be able to swap microbead products for an exfoliator that is microbead-free.
"Plastic in all its shapes and forms poses an environmental challenge, and unfortunately there isn't a quick fix. Everyone needs to play their part. Our focus at the moment is microbeads but rest assured our sustainability programme is wide reaching and will continue to evolve over time."
Associate Environment Minister Scott Simpson said glitter was a small part of the marine plastic issue. "We are currently focused on addressing the larger waste streams entering the environment. However, I understand some manufacturers, for example Lush, are already removing plastic glitter from their products."
He said microfibres were part of a broader conversation about marine plastic pollution.
"The release of microfibres to the ocean is not a straightforward issue to address – it is difficult to introduce a ban on microfibres in the same way as we are with plastic microbeads.
"There are a number of solutions being looked at overseas, including better filtering in washing machines and the waste water treatment systems to reduce the amount of microplastics entering the marine environment. We are following this international research with interest."