By Simone Delochan,
“When it goes down the drain, it breaks down into even smaller pieces of plastic. Then it goes into our waterways, and our oceans are getting this tiny, tiny coating of plastic that’s insulating it. It gets digested by micro-organisms, by fish, all of it. And that becomes our food, that becomes our water,” Saba Gray, founder and CEO of BioGlitz.
I swear I’m neither trying to ruin childhood nor the Carnival spirit, of which this plays some small role. But yes, let’s talk glitter. Or fairy dust. The truth is, there is something about that whimsical feeling which a little, or a lot of glitter gives, whether it’s in eye shadow, or body lotion/gel or nail polish.
It’s less fun perhaps on your child’s craft products when those few rebellious glitter flakes linger and emerge just when you thought you had rid yourself of every particle.
So what’s the issue with glitter? If you’ve been following my environmental series you would have come across the term ‘microplastic’. And this is what most glitter is, small pieces of plastic and aluminium called PET (Polyethylene terephthalate), that can cause a release of chemicals which impact the hormones of animals and humans: “Such chemicals have been linked with the onset of cancers and neurological diseases.” (Independent, Thursday, November 16, 2017).
The New York Times interviewed the chief scientist at the NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Marine Debris Division, Amy V Uhrin, and an expert in marine pollution at the University of Texas, Joel Baker, and both agreed that glitter, as threat to the environment, was something to pay attention to. Baker further added: “A little bit of glitter goes a long way. Weeks after a kid’s birthday party, there’s still glitter all over your car.”
Now magnify the image above to drains and the streets of Port of Spain and other venues across the country after revellers have passed through. Have you ever been merely a bystander watching bands go by on Carnival Tuesday, not having necessarily touched anyone with glitter, then went home with glitter on your skin and in your hair? Think about larger effects: bioaccumulation of these microplastics.
In December 2017, a group of nurseries in South England banned the use of glitter in their projects for Christmas and kudos outside of England resonated. The sole reason for the ban was environmental concern. Altogether, 2,500 children participated. The Catholic News’ ‘Create a Creche’ project every year reveals marvels of creativity with the use of organic materials: straw, twigs, recycled plastic that is painted. I remember one in particular that stood out for me: it was the plastic from a cake box that was painted and gave the effect of stained glass.
This opening paragraph in a Guardian UK, November 2017, article on glitter gave pause: “What will the rocks record about the lives we lead? What might a future palaeontologist, human or otherwise, make of the structures that will come to signify these moments in which you and I live our lives? They will notice extinctions, of course…. They will see, by studying fossil pollen, that the climate changed. They will find our discarded KFC bones and they will wonder how the world supported so many chickens. And there, among it all, they will probably find that most awful of human inventions: glitter. Oodles of it —purples, pinks and reds—crushed into rocks the world over.” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/20/nurseries-ban-glitter-microplastics-seas-pollution).
I admit that my immediate reaction was, “Oooh! Sounds pretty!” but really, I don’t think our environmental legacy should be shiny objects that contributed to pollution and possibly had neurological effects on human and animal life.
I acknowledge, though, that even the best intentions can be thwarted by lack of alternative. Awareness is one thing, but what about the nature of choice in the marketplace?
Consumers are put under much pressure to be eco-friendly. Businesses, not so much, when embedded business practice has neither been interrogated nor asked to change; consumers do have power, but thus far we have been letting the tail wag the dog.
I contacted one Carnival supplier, which has store locations throughout the country and is the self-proclaimed, international supplier of Carnival products. In the questionnaire I sent in on glitter and glitter sales I asked, among others, the following questions:
Do you have eco-friendly products or alternatives?
If no, would you be willing to find and stock eco-friendly alternatives to glitter and other products for your consumers?
Do you practise any eco-awareness as a company brand at all?
Communication with their Marketing Intelligence Specialist, who had been responsive in the introductory email, ceased after the questionnaire was sent in. No information on whether the questions will be answered, nor reasons for their not being answered either.
I’ll leave you, the reader, to determine whether a complete cultural change needs to occur—within business and personal practice—to cease making our space, this ‘paradise’ we love to tout, filthy. Unless we feel good living in filth.