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Biodegradable Glitter, and all that means!

Micro-plastics are classified as any plastic fragments that are less than 5mm long, and as anyone who has glittered themselves know; it gets everywhere. For environmentalists this is a big problem.

There is an estimated 19 billion tonnes of plastic currently floating around in our oceans* and at least one quarter of that is believed to be micro-plastics.  As David Attenborough will tell you this plastic is getting into the guts of fish and marine life, and actively changing the biodiversity of our oceans.  In fact, on the current path it is estimated there will be more plastic in our oceans by 2050 than there will be fish.  So what are we to do?

“Plastic is the enemy, ban it all!” Right?  Nope, don’t panic! Biodegradable glitter is here to save the day.

Biodegradable glitter is made from Eucalyptus tree extract.  This is metallised with a thin layer of aluminium (under cosmetic guidelines of 0.1%) and then a dye is placed on top, then cut.

That said, there are many different “fake” bio options out there, so below is a guide to help you make sure the stuff you buy is the best on the market.

Biodegradable glitter is not as shiny.
Biodegradable glitter is still very new in its manufacture. This means as yet the quality is not as equal to standard glitter as we would like. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is the plastic in standard glitter that allows for iridescent shine, holographic behaviour and all the other fancy options standard glitter has.  Since the only other shiny element in glitter is the aluminium, this is currently the bit that is giving biodegradable glitter its shine.  Of course, aluminium has to be kept to a minimum in order for it to be face cosmetic safe and thus comes the lack of shine.  Manufacturers around the world are working hard to find suitable alternatives, including mine who are currently experimenting with the use of synthetic mica into the glitter process.  Of course all the experimenting, and then certification takes time, and so when it comes to sparkle, you’ll just have to be patient.

Biodegradable glitter is soft.
With the lack of the hard PET substance, it shouldn’t be surprising that biodegradable glitter is softer and sometimes easier to curl than regular glitter.  This doesn’t mean it will melt on your face, but it is a good way to tell the quality and aluminium levels of the glitter.

Sometimes the dye doesn’t stick.
PET was annoyingly also the ingredient that holds and seals good quality glitter. Lacking this ingredient means sometimes you may find little streaks in the colour.  This is something the manufacturers are working hard on. Currently they run the sheets through the machines multiple times to coat the metallised eucalyptus, but of course the more times you do that, the more expensive the glitter will become.  Small streaks are the price we currently pay, to keep the cost similar to standard glitter costs.

Not all biodegradable glitter is marine biodegradable.
There are a lot of biodegradable options on the market, but biodegradable actually has two meanings; marine safe biodegradable and compostable.
Compostable glitter will not break down in the oceans. It requires a specific type of environment, of oxygen, microorganisms and warmth, which cannot be found in our seas. 
However marine biodegradable goes one step further in also being eventually soluble. We say eventually because the process can still take upwards of 6 months, but this is still considerably less than the 100 years plus of PET.  
Never be afraid to ask your supplier exactly what kind of biodegradable glitter it is, and you can always ask for the decomposition sheets, which will look a little like the below:

(A side note for trade; remember when asking for data sheets that if the supplier alters the document to hide their manufacturer details, your insurance will deem the document invalid.)

Biodegradable glitter can be used in gels, just not long term.
The half life of good quality biodegradable glitter is about 3.5 months, which means it takes about 7 months plus to break down (depending on environment conditions). Of course we would expect the dye to have left the sample long before then. This means as a supplier we cannot sell biodegradable glitter in our gel pots, but doesn’t mean you can’t make them up at home (subject to your insurance allowances).  We would expect you can probably get away with making it up a week or so before your event, depending on the type of gel you use, and the quality of the glitter you have bought.

There are no shapes in biodegradable glitter (at this time).
The cost to manufacture hex glitter (the regular shape) is 10x that of its standard glitter brother.  When they cut shapes, they also have to take into account the cost of waste material, and the stranger the shape, the worse this becomes. There is also an issue with the way the machines handle cutting the metallised eucalyptus, and waste material has been found to clog some machines.
 After extensive research, we believe at the moment on the market there are no marine biodegradable shapes of cosmetic quality. That’s not to say there won’t be before long.  As the demand for biodegradable glitter grows, the cost to manufacture will lower (everything is always cheaper in bulk) and then the manufacturers can again look introducing shapes.  This isn’t far out of the market, and I recommend watching this space.

Plastic is not always the enemy.
Saving the environment is not just about removing plastic, but also about recycling and reusing.  For example; Crafty Stock package our biodegradable glitter in reusable plastic seal bags and plastic pots.  We had looked at cardboard and paper alternatives, but often these contain non recyclable cellophane windows, which somewhat defeats the purpose.
Also there are other environmental impacts we should be taking into consideration.  Did you know that cardboard has a much higher carbon footprint than plastic?  A recent statement from Plastics Europe confirmed: ‘Only 1.5% of all oil and gas consumed in Europe is used as a raw material to produce plastic packaging, whereas 90% of it is used for heating, transportation and energy generation. If food was packed using other materials than plastics, the related energy consumption would double, and greenhouse gas emissions would nearly triple. This would also be accompanied by a 360% increase in the weight of the packaging’.**
Being environmentally friendly is not just about banning a bad thing, but about educating ourselves on the best ways to use and reuse what we do have.  We need to teach ourselves not to flush wipes down the toilet for example, but stick them in the bin where they can be broken down in a controlled landfill environment, or washing and reusing our plastic packaging rather than binning it.  In fact, if you are willing and clever enough with it, you can even continue to use regular glitter, as long as you dispose of it in a safe manner, and not down our drains.

 Hopefully this gives you a little insight into the world of biodegradable glitter, but if you have any questions, as always, please feel free to contact us!

*source: Science Journal
**source: Kempner

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