There’s no denying the obvious. Our glitter obsession has reached strange new heights, with some festival goers planning their glitter get-up before their sleeping arrangements. From hired glitter angels that roam the fields, to dedicated stalls with hordes of people waiting in line to be transformed into their sparkly festival alter ego, there’s something about glitter that drives us crazy and it’s fast becoming a staple of festival culture.
our fascination with the stuff stems back to our evolutionary instinct to seek out water
Interestingly, our fascination with the stuff stems back to our evolutionary instinct to seek out water. Our need to stay hydrated meant that our ancestors were always on the lookout for shimmering rivers, which gives us our impulse for shiny things. Ironically, this instinct stemming from a need to survive is now a major contributor to the destruction of our incredible underwater worlds and a threat to our entire ecosystem.
Most glitter is made from plastic, the once-called ‘disposable’ material whose chemical structure takes hundreds of years to break down. By design, plastic glitter is a member of the villainous microplastics club. Defined as small particles of plastic less than 5mm in diameter, microplastics can occur in the environment from the disposal and breakdown of plastic products and industrial waste, or the irresponsible use of microplastic in consumer products, such as microbeads and, of course, plastic glitter.
plastic glitter is a member of the villainous microplastics club
These tiny particles of plastic wash out into our rivers and oceans, where they’ll likely remain for several lifetimes, in the meantime collecting toxins from the surrounding water and other environments. To put this into context, it’s estimated that a plastic bottle will take up to 450 years to decompose.
What inevitably happens next is that these deadly little balls of chemicals get gobbled up by fish and other animals. Multiple studies claim that as much as 44% of all seabird species, 22% of whales, dolphins and porpoises; all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have already been documented with plastic in or around their bodies. Heart-wrenchingly, a study published last year in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal has shown that fish actively seek out plastic debris in the ocean because they pick up a small layer of biological material like algae, which mimics the look and smell of their usual food.
Another impact of microplastics that might strike even closer to home is the hundreds of plastic particles that could be floating in your water battle (325 plastic particles per litre of water sold, according to a recent study by Fredonia State University) – some even the width of a human hair.
the UK has introduced a manufacturing ban on the use of microbeads in rinse off cosmetics and personal care products
Thankfully, as of January this year, the UK has introduced a manufacturing ban on the use of microbeads in rinse off cosmetics and personal care products, such as exfoliating face wash and toothpastes, which currently wash thousands of tonnes of plastic into the sea each year; with a ban on the sale of microbead products to follow in July this year. While this is a huge leap in the right direction, the ban does not include glitter, and judging by the glare coming off your average festival field each summer, that remains a very big problem.
They say you can’t polish a turd, but thankfully you can cover it in glitter. By simply converting to biodegradable glitter, a product that’s already very easy and affordable to find, you can get your glitter on with a completely clear conscience. There are already loads of companies producing an eco-friendly version of the shiny stuff that will take months rather than centuries to break down, at little to no price difference.
Just one of the lovely brands taking pride in offering a sustainable alternative are EcoStardust, who also give 10% of their net profits to environmental charities and organisations.
This past May, over 60 festival organisers committed to banning single-use plastic – including glitter – from their sites by 2021. Led by the Association of Independent Festivals, the Drastic on Plastic initiative will also come down hard on the use of plastic drinks bottles, plastic straws, plastic food trays and cable ties.
While many festivals including Shambala, Shindig Festival and Balter have already explicitly requested festival-goers not to bring plastic glitter on site, it’s our job to make sure we don’t buy it.
over 60 festival organisers committed to banning single-use plastic – including glitter – from their sites by 2021