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U.K. glitter ban: Holiday products lose their sparkle

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

By Miranda Lu and Michelle Qiao Dec. 9, 2020


This holiday season, Morrisons, Waitrose and John Lewis—three of the largest retailers in the United Kingdom—banned the use of glitter in their single-use Christmas products to help reduce plastic pollution.


An assortment of colorful and sparkly microplastics, glitter endangers aquatic ecosystems when making its way into oceans. Scientists have yet to understand the full implications of glitter on the planet, but compared with other non-recyclable products in the ocean, it can be especially harmful—to produce its luster, dangerous and contaminating metals and additives are used.


In recent years, increasing environmental awareness has sparked a campaign against glitter. In 2018, British cosmetics retailer Lush replaced the glitter in its bath bombs with synthetic mica—an environmentally-friendly alternative. Popular culture staples like British television show “Strictly Come Dancing” also forbade contestants from wearing costumes with glitter to promote consciousness towards the environment.



“Changes like the glitter ban are crucial to preventing ocean pollution and it could push other industries to be more environmentally conscious”

Together, public pressure and consumer demand have prompted Morrisons, Waitrose and John Lewis to completely remove glitter from in-house brand holiday products, including wrapping paper, wreaths, cards and present bags this holiday season. In a statement released by Morrisons, the chain said their decision would reduce fifty tons of plastic from its products this winter.


“Hopefully, these efforts will push retailers in the U.S. to re-examine the environmentally harmful materials used in production and packaging. Changes like the glitter ban are crucial to preventing ocean pollution and it could push other industries to be more environmentally conscious,” Sophomore Erica Song said.


It is possible that the pledge to remove glitter from holiday products may only be performative rhetoric to attract environmentally conscious consumers.

Amidst the growing anti-glitter movement, several brands selling substitutes for regular glitter have emerged. U.S. retailer TodayGlitter sells glitter made from eucalyptus extract that decomposes in air and water over time and U.K. company Eco Glitter Fun makes glitter from biodegradable cellulose film. But even alternatives to glitter may still have a negative effect on marine ecosystems. In a study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, scientists found that biodegradable alternatives were just as harmful to the environment as conventional types of plastic glitter, because cellulose glitter is still coated with aluminum and plastic for reflectivity. It is possible that the pledge to remove glitter from holiday products may only be performative rhetoric to attract environmentally conscious consumers.


Although excluding plastic glitter from products can reduce plastic pollution, glitter only makes up a small fraction of the microplastics polluting our environment. According to Robert C. Hale, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary, glitter composes “far less than one percent of the microplastics that pollute the environment.” In addition, outside of their holiday lines, John Lewis, Waitrose and Morrisons all are continuing to sell products that include plastic or come in plastic packaging.


“Glitter only makes up a small portion of the waste polluting the oceans—companies should place more focus on minimizing littering, cigarette usage and other activities that have a larger impact on ocean pollution,” Sophomore Tammy Newman said.


...going without traditional wrapping paper and bags, recycling Christmas trees or reducing the use of Christmas lights can all contribute to an environmentally conscious holiday season.

In the United States, major supermarket retailers and department stores have not made similar attempts to remove or reduce the use of glitter in holiday products this year. However, there are still many steps concerned shoppers can take to reduce waste. For example, going without traditional wrapping paper and bags, recycling Christmas trees or reducing the use of Christmas lights can all contribute to an environmentally conscious holiday season.


Though the impact of banning glitter is minimal, the actions of these retailers could motivate more companies, brands, and organizations to transition to a more sustainable and earth-friendly approach to business. As pollution worsens, finding ways to reduce plastic consumption is becoming more and more important for the well-being of our planet.

Nicole Kim Art

 

About the Contributors

Miranda Lu

Staff Writer


Miranda Lu is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer. She enjoys hiking, reading, and watching movies in her free time.










Michelle Qiao

Staff Writer


Michelle Qiao is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer. She loves to play volleyball and spends her free time reading, drinking coffee and watching Pixar movies.

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