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All that glitters is damaging our planet

Glitter may look innocent enough, but the sparkly substance is having a damaging effect on our environment, leading scientists to call for a complete ban on the material.

Once glitter enters the environment, particularly rivers and oceans, it is having a profound effect on wildlife. Indeed, recent estimates suggest that over a third of fish in the North Sea contain microplastic particles – not a particularly appetising thought if you’re planning a delicious fish supper!

Such microplastics originate from various sources including from washing synthetic textiles, plastic items that have degraded in the water over time, and cosmetic microbeads, which the UK Government has already outlawed.

The problem with glitter stems from how it is made, with most products manufactured from tiny pieces of plastic bonded with layers of coloured film and aluminium which is then cut into shapes.

Due to its structure, glitter is impossible to recycle as its constituent parts cannot be separated, and once the material enters the oceans it is incredibly difficult to recover.

The presence of glitter on normally recyclable materials such as paper or card can render such items impossible to recycle too. And it’s not just the practicality of recycling glitter that causes problems. In our MRF, even small amounts of glitter can contaminate recycling streams and cause blockages in our sorting machinery.

In the aftermath of Christmas and New Year many people will find themselves with piles of wrapping paper and greetings cards that need to be disposed of. While much paper and card can be recycled, any items containing glitter should be placed in general waste rather than recycling, which is an unfortunate waste of resources.

Many major retailers including Waitrose, Aldi and Lush have already taken steps to remove glitter from their shelves or replace it with sustainable, biodegradable alternatives, which is certainly a positive step. However, as with the case of the carrier bag charge and the ban on microbeads, Government legislation would help to speed the rate of change and stop the use of yet another damaging single use plastic.

This would be welcomed not just by the operators of recycling facilities and MRFs, for whom glitter is an absolute bane, but also by the fish and other animals in our marine environments, not to mention those who consume them.