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“All That Glitter? It’s Not Good, Critics Say” Photo courtesy of New York Times.

The perils of holiday glitter

By Jeff Rice, Puget Sound Institute

You might want to think twice before adding that extra bit of sparkle this holiday season. A growing number of environmental activists and scientists are saying it’s time to hold the glitter.

PSI Director Joel Baker is quoted this week in The New York Times on the connection between glitter and harmful microplastics.

Some groups, including most recently a chain of child care centers in Britain, are proposing a ban on the shimmery plastic saying it can be easily consumed, causing unknown health effects. But concerns go well beyond the potential ingestion by young children during craft time. Scientists confirm that glitter, as with most microplastics, has a tendency to find its way into the ocean and other waterbodies where it can be passed through the food chain from invertebrates and fish on up to humans.

The New York Times reports:  “Joel Baker, a marine pollution expert at the University of Washington Tacoma, said glitter was 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,” he told the paper. “Weeks after a kid’s birthday party, there’s still glitter all over your car.”

Baker and his colleagues at the University of Washington Center for Urban Waters are among the leading experts on the occurrence of microplastics in the world’s oceans and have conducted numerous related studies around the Puget Sound region.

Microplastics are defined as pieces of plastic that are smaller than 5 millimeters. They are typically created when larger pieces of plastic debris break down into smaller pieces in the environment, but some types of microplastics such as scrubbing beads in toothpastes and exfoliating products that were manufactured to be small have recently been banned. Could glitter be next?

Fans of certain types of glitter need not worry, however. The Times reports that some manufacturers are now creating biodegradable versions of glitter to ensure a sparkly, but healthy holiday season.