Back in 2018, the New York Times posted an article in which one of their journalists visited a clandestine glitter factory in New Jersey operated by a company called Glitterex. The interview revealed a juicy mystery: that the company was unwilling to disclose which industry its biggest consumer was. This mystery was eagerly consumed by Redditors on u/unresolvedmysteries soon after, with popular guesses being the military, maritime or vessel companies, and consumables. While the mystery continues to rage on, it shines a light on how little we think about glitter, despite its ubiquity.

Glitter is all around us: in our car paint, in our cosmetics, on our nails, on our notebooks, in our pens, in our cutlery…the list goes on. With the holiday season upon us, we’ve begun to see it in storefronts and in our homes as decorations. I am a massive fan of glitter, which my social circle deems appropriate only for children, but I continue to devour anything that sparkles. I have a glittery notebook, a series of glitter pens, loads of glittery cosmetics, and even had glitter hair for a brief amount of time in high school.

Primarily made from plastic and aluminium, glitter was first manufactured in 1934 and has been a staple of life ever since. And therein lies the problem: glitter is essentially a microplastic. You know, those teeny-tiny bits of plastic that have found their way to places as remote as the bottom of the Mariana Trench? They’ve also found their way into our food chains, with microplastics being found in fish that global populations are consuming. Additionally, the specific plastic that glitter is made from – polyethylene terephthalate, or PET – has been demonstrated to disrupt hormone production in humans. Worst of all, none of this plastic glitter is even remotely recyclable, and will likely populate a landfill somewhere, where it will leech into the water table, contaminate the land, and fill the stomachs of animals and humans alike.

So is there a way for us to enjoy the magic of glitter without trashing the environment? The answer is a resounding “yes”. Biodegradable glitters are the best alternatives to plastic-based glitters. EcoGlitter is the only brand of truly biodegradable glitter in the world, and it can be purchased from authorized resellers. Eco Glitter Fun is one seller of BioGlitter in the UK and state that they want to “bring responsible sparkles and plastic pollution awareness to the world”. There are many other brands that also produce or sell biodegradable glitter, which serves to demonstrate that this is not a nascent idea, and needs to be treated seriously as a means towards reduced plastic pollution. It also means that you can keep sparkling and go crazy with guilt-free glitter!

There is a distinction to be made between glitter that is labelled “biodegradable” versus those labelled  “compostable”. Compostable glitters are also bad for the environment because they require very specific conditions to get broken down – conditions that are rare in nature. As a result, they tend to hang around and act as pollutants just like regular glitter. Biodegradable glitters are made from plant-derived cellulose, and the only brand that makes these and has been certified is EcoGlitter.

The concern is that the move from plastic glitter to eco-friendly glitter is not taking place fast enough – much like other industries in which corporations are progressing very slowly in implementing environmentally friendly practices or refusing to do so outright. These are very grave concerns that are impacting our future right now, right here, in the present.

As consumers, we hold the power to be activists. Corporations are learning now more than ever that their key stakeholders and sources of funding – consumers – are increasingly socially conscious and critical about the goods that we buy. This means we hold the power when it comes to pressuring producers and large-scale buyers of glitter and other harmful products to change or risk losing business. The sad thing is that corporations only ever understand the “business case” – i.e. the one that impacts their bottom lines – and not the moral one. Either way, consumers and their money form the foundation of business success, and by making sure companies are aware that we are critical, we can potentially move them to change their ways.

For example, Marks & Spencer, the UK retailer, used biodegradable glitter on their gift bags in 2018. Its success saw the brand expand the use of this eco-friendly glitter to even more products. Lush, the cosmetics brand, replaced plastic glitters in its products with mica and other mineral-based glitters as well.

Circling back to the source of the Reddit mystery: I went to Glitterex’s website and perused their product line. As far as I can tell, none of their glitters are biodegradable or mineral-based, and yet Glitterex’s website states that these glitters are used in cosmetics, arts and crafts, paints, and much more. We need to demand that producers such as Glitterex and purchasers like larger corporations change the way that they produce glitter or risk losing our business – and our environment.

  • Shruti Sardesai

    Shruti Sardesai works in the not-for-profit sphere and is invested in gender equality and development. She has a Masters from the University of Toronto and focused on women's issues, migration, and humanitarian aid. Shruti also works in animal rescue in her hometown and wants to be at the forefront of feminist activism.