Many fashionistas and art lovers are switching from regular glitter biodegradable options. What is biodegradable glitter made of that makes it eco-friendly?
Regular glitter is made by chopping the metalized plastic sheets into minuscule pieces. These pieces find their way to the environment when they are shed from our fancy artwork or washed off the skin.
Biodegradable glitter is made using cellulose extracted mostly from eucalyptus tree fibers. These fibers grow at a rapid pace and are readily available. With plant-based materials, biodegradable glitter is safe for the oceans, contains no genetically modified materials, and is even safe for vegans.
The microplastics in regular glitter are proving to become harmful to the environment. There was no better way to make glitter harmless to the environment than to develop a biodegradable version. According to research, more than five thousand tonnes of micro-plastics are annually used by the cosmetic industry.
Biodegradable glitter is made from natural plant products and their extracts. Experts believe it is safer for the environment only if it is purely plant-based. Most manufacturers sell off conventional glitter by labeling it as biodegradable. It is best to opt for glitter certified by reputable research and testing agencies to ensure that you are getting the correct product.
What is Glitter Made Of?
At the end of each year, we surround ourselves with red winterberries, paper snowflakes, and green conifers. But one thing that we can never get enough of is Aluminum polyethylene terephthalate.
We see this complex-named chemical everywhere. It blissfully shines through windows, it even covers the nail plates of many women, young and old, and it sparkles like diamonds on the ornaments. Even Saint Nicholas could not refrain from quoting it in his poems, where he once said twinkle and shine like Aluminum polyethylene terephthalate.
It is found everywhere, in homes, schools, offices, hospitals, banks, fire stations, car dealerships, hardware stores, stationery shops, and in all kinds of buildings and outside them. It sparkles, shines, and is so glittery that it is called glitter.
We humans, even those who hate glitter, love glitter. Shiny things attract us, much like our millennia-old ancestors were attracted to honey. But what is glitter made of, you ask? It is made of glitter. Big glitter produces small glitter, and small glitter gets in all the places, and all kinds of glitter are a nuisance to remove. We say this because knowing the chemical composition of glitter will not make it any easier to handle.
But if you must know, the process is as simple to explain as difficult glitter is to clean up. Initially, multilayered sheets are made by combining coloring, different types of plastic, including Polyethylene terephthalate(PET) and Polylactic Acid (PLA), and shiny material such as aluminum, iron oxide, and titanium dioxide. These sheets are then shredded into minuscule particles, some of which can be shapes such as hexagons, squares, triangles, etc.
What is Biodegradable Glitter?
Anyone who has used glitter for fashion or to decorate your artwork knows very well that as attractive as it looks, it can be one big nuisance to clean up. It is almost like a pandemic that gets transferred from one thing to the other in the blink of an eye. Since regular glitter is made of plastic, it seems to just stay there for an eternity.
Even with granules so small that you cannot judge their shape with the naked eye, regular glitter is a large problem for the environment. When used for cosmetic purposes, it gets washed off and ends in the ocean or the rivers. It sits in the water bodies for long periods and is often ingested by fish and other marine creatures. If you are fond of seafood, chances are you must have ingested some glitter yourself.
But with advanced technologies, may we now ask plastic glitter to step aside and make way for the new eco-friendly alternative. We present biodegradable glitter to you, which does not compromise on the shimmer and is made from plant-based materials, so it does not last an eternity in the environment.
Biodegradable glitter decomposes more or less like a regular leaf. It requires oxygen, water, heat, and microorganisms to do the job. A higher presence of these elements ensures improved biodegradation. Another impressive feature of biodegradable glitter is that it also promotes anaerobic digestion.
How Long Does Biodegradable Glitter Remain in the Environment?
There is no one answer to this question. With the presence of the correct atmosphere, biodegradable glitter takes nearly a month to disappear completely. After a month, it blends back into the environment and vanishes completely without leaving any trace.
When biodegradable glitter gets washed off into water bodies, the breakdown process significantly speeds up. Even if marine creatures consume it, it breaks down naturally through the digestion process as it is made of plant-based materials.
What is Biodegradable Glitter Made Of?
Initially, biodegradable glitter was made using wood pulp. Still, advancements in research and development revealed that any cellulose-based plant product such as banana peels, mango peels, coffee bean skins could be used for the process. The most commonly used raw material is eucalyptus tree fibers, which are easy to procure and have a rapid growth rate, making them ideal for mass usage.
Biodegradable glitter does not contain titanium dioxide, aluminum, or wasteful plastics to get that unique shimmer. Instead, the glitter goes through a structural coloration process, which alters the structure of the nanocrystals on the surface to get colorful shades. By changing the size of these nanocrystals, the light they reflect can be altered, changing their color.
The cellulose particles from wood-pulp can form these nanocrystals, where these crystals first align and then twist. But to turn them into real, usable glitter, scientists artificially created large cellulose chains. Cellulose is transparent, but glitter manufacturers do not need to add any artificial coloring to cellulose. You can think of it like soap water, which is transparent, but as soon as you blow a bubble out of it, you will notice the bubble giving off all kinds of colors.
There is some complex chemistry involved in getting the nanocrystals in the shape we want them to be. But what matters most is that they reflect light much like conventional glitter, and since they are made from pure plant-based materials, they are fully biodegradable and are not a threat to the environment.
Is Biodegradable Glitter Convenient?
The only convenient thing about biodegradable glitter is how quickly it can return to the environment and not be a hazard to the ecosystem. But all “eco-friendly” glitters are not created equal. Where some can be degraded naturally, other forms of glitter require special conditions to start the degradation process.
Compostable glitter requires a compostable environment to decompose. That may sound fine to read, but think of it practically, would you pick up glitter granule by granule after getting home from a tiring party and take it to your near compost?
Even if you are super-conscious about the environment and going green, chances are you will most likely let a shower and water take care of all the glitter on you. We are almost sure that you will not go around straining the glitter out of the shower drain to “save the environment.” So, you have to be careful about the product you are choosing if you really want to help the environment.
Is Biodegradable Glitter Really Biodegradable?
Tests have been performed on biodegradable glitter by Technischer Überwachungsverein. If you skipped over those two words, which you most likely did, let’s call the testing agency TÜV. TUV certifies that 80% of biodegradable glitter brands are OK and can break down in natural environments.
If you are really looking for biodegradable glitter, consider opting for one that has been certified by the agency because many counterfeit manufacturers are trying to sell conventional glitter at a higher price by labeling it biodegradable.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker