It’s that time of year where we like to add a bit of sparkle to our lives. Out come the sequins, on goes the glitter. Glitzy crafts come home from nursery, shedding a shiny trail.
It feels like glitter is particularly on trend at the moment, with glitter body art and hairstyles, glitter tattoos, and even glitter beards around, but there is evidence that people have used sparkling substances since prehistoric times. As long as 30,000 years ago, cave artists used powdered mica flakes to enhance their artwork. Ancient Egyptians used make-up from iridescent beetle wings and powdered malachite for a bit of extra glitz. More recently, 19th century Christmas ornaments were decorated using German glass glitter made from ground silvered glass.
It may seem like harmless fun, but modern glitter is plastic. As anyone who has tried it knows, a little goes a long way, and it will turn up in unexpected places for weeks. Some people even refer to it as the herpes of the craft world and it’s not hard to understand why. It is estimated that between 1989-2009 humans used four and a half million kilograms of glitter. I wonder where it’s all gone? Perhaps, somewhere deep in the ocean, there’s a tiny glimmering flake that coated my eyelid on NYE 1999.
Ravers of a certain age may remember the infamous Sussex dancefloor disaster, where an unfortunate party-goer accidentally snorted a pot of glitter and ended up in A&E in a critical condition. He survived, but I imagine he felt pretty sheepish telling his parents why he had to go to hospital.
If you need any more persuasion on why glitter is bad, this article by Daniel Ross on the EcoWatch website gives a pretty detailed picture.
Awareness of microplastic pollution is growing following the successful campaign to ban microbeads in cosmetics. One chain of nurseries in the UK has just banned the use of glitter and is advocating using lentils and rice in craft activities instead, but this seems like a rather dull replacement. That home-made Christmas card for Granny won’t look quite so seasonal when it’s coated with organic pulses. Here are a few shinier suggestions for adding some eco-friendly festive sparkle:
EcoStardust and EcoGlitterFun sell biodegradable glitter made from plant-based cellulose film. With prices from around £3.50 for 3g it’s pricier than plastic glitter, but I would argue that it isn’t too expensive, it’s more that plastic glitter is too cheap. Sadly this ‘biodegradable’ glitter can still contain up to 8% plastic. EcoGlitterFun confirmed that their glitter does contain ‘negligible’ amounts of plastic: “The 8% acrylate co polymer is the binding coating on the glitter, it holds the pigment, cellulose and aluminium together. The amount is negligible, however the manufacturer has taken steps to make the glitter 100% plastic free and will be available later in the year. We know they have experienced many delays and are unsure of the release date, even though their website says February 2019 we doubt it will be released then.”
Why not try using edible glitter for crafts rather than baking? Following the 2012 Celebrity Bake Off ‘Glittergate’ scandal, when a contestant was found to be using undigestible ‘non-toxic’ plastic glitter sold by a catering company, the FSA set new guidelines for edible glitter. They are now usually made from a mixture of gum arabic and food colourings. I generally try to avoid eating that sort of thing, but would happily sprinkle some on a home-made greetings card. From £2.70 for 3g * from Ethical Superstore it’s a more economical option. You could even try making your own! (although as a vegetarian I don’t fancy the gelatine-based option, yick!)
Another crafty way to add a bit of sparkle to your creations is by ‘upcycling’ packaging. The shiny inner wrappers on Seed & Bean‘s* delicious chocolate bars are made from eucalyptus based biodegradable film. Cut it into tiny strips and sprinkle away to your hearts content.
Basically, the only excuse for using plastic-based glitter is to stop a nuclear apocalypse.
How? In the New Scientist (letters page 21/10/17) Luce Gilmore explains how US and Russian researchers developed a tamper-proof seal to prevent covert upgrading of nuclear warheads. “The procedure was simply to glue the access panels shut with transparent epoxy resin, mixed with a pinch of glitter, in a deliberately messy blob. Once cured the random pattern was photographed under laser illumination. It was deemed impossible to upgrade a warhead and then recreate the pattern precisely…”