A number of retailers have last week stated that they will not be using glitter in their products in the run up to Christmas.
Morrisons have released a statement to say that they have removed glitter from their own-brand Christmas ranges. Instead, they will be using soluble ink and foil to add sparkle to their products.
The Morrisons Home Director, Christine Bryce has said “we’ve taken glitter and plastic out of our festive range this year – so that our customers can enjoy their festivities without worrying about the environmental impact. This means that we’re now 100 per cent glitter free across all our own brand ranges which is an important step in the fight against plastic pollution.”
In addition, the supermarket has removed plastic toys from crackers and reduced packaging, resulting in an estimated reduction of 50 tonnes of plastic.
This comes after Waitrose and John Lewis last year vowed that they would be glitter free by this Christmas. Their 2020 own-brand Christmas range will not contain any glitter and they too have vowed to remove plastic items from crackers.
But what is so harmful about glitter?
Glitter is made from microplastics which can make their way into the sea and be consumed by marine animals. Not only can this kill sea life, it also means that the microplastics can end up in the human food chain. Glitter takes years to biodegrade, is single-use and non-recyclable which are all detrimental to the environment. Scientists are still struggling to determine quite how much glitter is in the ocean as it is accompanied by so many other forms of plastic. Plastic Oceans estimate that 800 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year and that it makes up at least 75% of marine litter. Although glitter might seem like a small problem, it is a part of a much bigger one.
Plastic Glitter substitutes
As the damaging impacts of glitter have emerged, so too have numerous companies providing bio-degradable and eco-friendly alternatives. Eco- glitter fun is a brand creating glitter made from ‘90% biodegradable cellulose film’ which is ‘designed to be metabolised by microorganisms in the sewage system, so very little, if any, will end up in the ocean’. BioGlitz use a plant-based formula to ensure their products are plastic free, non- toxic and responsibly sourced. Similar brands include ‘Festival Face’ and ‘Eco- stardust’, but all are supporting a move towards plastic free glitter.
Another alternative to glitter containing plastic is mica, which is a mineral used to create sparkle. However, this is problematic in itself due to issues with mining and unethical labour. In 2018, Lush decided to use synthetic Mica, opposed to natural mica in its products in order to be more socially and environmentally conscious. Synthetic mica is created in a lab and environmentally friendly, it is not made with any microplastics. So, you can buy your sparkly bath bombs without worrying about the impact it might have when it is washed down the drain.
Problems with alternatives
Despite these emerging ideas, there is still criticism and some environmentalists argue all forms of glitter should be banned. There are increasing accusations of false-advertising and products not being as eco-friendly or biodegradable as they claim to be. WWF’s Sustainable Materials Specialist, Paula Chin, told Elle Magazine ‘Beware of claims that glitter products are biodegradable. Even branded “biodegradable” glitter may not biodegrade if left in the natural environment and would require industrial composting.’ In order to check the authenticity of the product, customers can look for certifications such as the ‘OK Biodegradable Water Certification’ from TÜV Austria.
Interestingly, Morrisons and John Lewis Partners have not chosen to use bio-degradable glitter and instead have opted for different alternatives. Morrison’s are incorporating the use of foil and soluble ink, whilst John Lewis are using embossing techniques for their Christmas products.
All steps towards more environmental awareness are good ones and pave the way for further changes. Hopefully, other supermarkets and brands will follow in the footsteps of Morrisons and John Lewis Partners in cutting down plastic packaging and glitter use. However, being eco-friendly is for life not just for Christmas, so let us hope these eco-conscious alterations prevail throughout next year.
There are plenty of truly bio-degradable options for people to use this Christmas and beyond, because we all need a little sparkle in our lives.
About the Author: Asha Hipperson is a freelance writer, and final year Journalism student at the University of Leeds.