Can You Just Not: Wear (PET) Glitter

I had to add text in Squarespace's editor because I had a change of heart while researching this piece. You'll see.

I had to add text in Squarespace's editor because I had a change of heart while researching this piece. You'll see.

I'm a staunch advocate for the "fashion isn't frivolous" movement, and will never shy away from giving an unsolicited "well, actually" when someone says they only wear what's comfortable. With that, I think glitter is frivolous. 

Whether it’s covering our bodies in clothing made by exploited workers and having the ignorant audacity to utter ‘namaste’ while wearing them - to covering our bodies in glitter which will never biodegrade so we might be able to draw attention to ourselves amongst large gatherings of our peers, we're a bit ass backwards about most things.

- Leotie Lovely, 30 May, 2016 - All That Glitters is not Green

There's little I can say that will expand on Leotie Lovely's fantastic post about the environmental impact of glitter. I suppose I'm writing this to lay blame:

The United Kingdom's Festival Scene

Glitter is infesting southern Cambodia's backpacker scene. First, I hated it as a guesthouse owner, needing to replace bed sheets tainted with buckets of glitter and UV paint. Now, I still hate it for that reason, but also how the self-professed hippie vegetarians, who want to keep Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem pristine, cover themselves in shards of metallic plastic. 

Even here in Kampot, a sleepy riverside town, there are weekend parties where there's always that one glittered dickhead forcing hugs onto everyone, including those of us who have glitterless day jobs.  Imagine if you showed up to your job with specks of glitter in your hair. Your boss would think you spent your weekend at a strip club.

These (overwhelmingly English) tourists' enthusiasm for glitter mirrors a cultural touchstone in the UK: music festivals. There are entire businesses that go from festival to festival selling sparkly makeovers. One such business is Shine Shack.

A photo of what Shine Shack actually does. (via Instagram)

A photo of what Shine Shack actually does. (via Instagram)

Let's set aside the cornrows (which they've appropriated as "Pixie Tail Braids" (not even joking)) for another article on cultural appropriation, and focus on their FAQs, where they state what material their glitter is made from: 

Our glitter is made of PET, which is a soft plastic and safe for use on the skin.

PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is the same material that plastic bottles are made of. While there have been some advances in degrading specific types of heavy PET using lab-manufactured bacteria, this new technology doesn't address lighter PET that's washed into the ocean (where do you think the glitter you wash off your face goes?).

Shine Shack are the main baddies in this article because a friend on Instagram used to work for them, therefore, I see their photos all the time, but there's an entire market for UK festival glitter. Other purveyors of plastic face sparkles are  Dust & Dance, Wild Thing Marketplace, Festival Face, and Go Get Glitter.

Glitter kills fish

I have a four-year-old son, and his first ecology lesson was "Straws Hurt Turtles" (we didn't show him that graphic video). He, as a three-year-old, saw trash in Kampot River, realized he wouldn't want to eat plastic, and now asks for "no straw" when he orders his drinks. Taking small steps to eliminate single-use plastic from your everyday life isn't difficult. The kid learned to drink from a glass. Big whoop.

The problem is cognitive dissonance. and not experiencing the consequences of your actions. With glitter, you don’t have creatures eating it off your face, or boobs, just like you don't know a waiter spit in your drink after asking if sparkling water is gluten free.

But, like, can you just not wear glitter? I could get into science-heavy research on how microbeads have been banned in the UK and US, then compare their molecular structure to glitter, but I shouldn't need to. Yeah, it's pretty and makes for a good Instagram photo, but can you think of a reason to wear it that seriously competes with its very simple counter argument: "glitter kills fish"? You can't, so...like, will you just please not wear it?

Shine Shack tried to reason with their plastic sparkle discs:

It’s currently impossible to source iridescent/holographic chunky glitters in a biodegradable form. We’ve searched the planet and it literally doesn’t yet exist.

For now, all our products are non toxic, they’re never tested on animals and we always recommend removing our glitter with a wipe and not letting it go down the plug hole.

Yeah, let it sit in a landfill, instead. 

But wait, how about biodegradable glitter?

Oh snap, you're right! There's a company called Bio-Glitter that creates compostable glitter, made of wood pulp (primarily eucalyptus), which is procured from FSC (Forest Stewardest Council) certified plantations. Let's be real, though. I don't wash my face over a compost heap to ensure my organic lipstick will be eaten by microorganisms.  However, European certified-compostable materials must degrade in <180 days if left in nature, as opposed to hundreds of years for PET, even in seawater. (What will happen to UK-based cosmetic brands after Brexit remains to be seen).

Eco-Glitter Fun is one UK glitter business grounded in sustainability, exclusively using biodegradable glitter and organic aloe vera gel as a, like. . . face glue replacement -- 

[record scratches to a stop]

Face glue. Face glue. You know when you're writing about something so you can better understand it, and you think "I'm getting it now." Then, you write face glue, and you're like, "Wait. What?" Of course you need to glue this stuff to your face -- near your eyes and mouth, and all over your pores. Why the hell wouldn't you use organic, aloe vera gel? What's the other option?

[searches for cosmetic face glue]

What the hell is Acrylates Copolymer?

Acrylic glue.

It's acrylic.

SYNTHETIC.

Ugh.

[record starts spinning]

Remember how Shine Shack advises wiping off glitter so it's not immediately washed into the ocean? Eco-Glitter Fun had a different answer for removing their biodegradable products: 

Face:
We just wash
[it] off with a mild soap and water.

Wet wipes tend to just rub it round the face and irritate the skin, so we generally try to avoid removing [glitter] with them.

Body & Hair:
Wash off using your normal shampoo and body wash. Be warned, you may still be finding glitter in your house a few days after!

And maybe a loofa will be needed in some instances. (Photo via Eco-Glitter Fun, Photo by Rachel Hardwick Photography, model: Shanice Corr, MUA by Pixie Lawrie)

And maybe a loofa will be needed in some instances. (Photo via Eco-Glitter Fun, Photo by Rachel Hardwick Photography, model: Shanice Corr, MUA by Pixie Lawrie)

Right, let's get biodegradable wood pulp glitter  into festivals, like, NOW. 

I reached out to Noemi Lamanna, festival-goer, sparkle enthusiast, and co-owner of Eco-Glitter Fun, and asked how festivals could put an end to vendors selling PET glitter: 

I personally would ban plastic glitter and allow only biodegradable glitter.

Niiiice. YES. But how to enforce this?

I would begin by doing research of each company that applies to be at the festival, just like how you would when researching a cruelty free brand.

I would ask the company to answer a number of set questions and ask them to send us a sample, then would advise them that there may be random spot checks at the festival to deter them from cutting corners.

"A festival glitter auditor," if you will.

I know some biodegradable brands have sent out or used plastic glitter when they incurred issues with their Bio-Glitter which, as far as we're concerned, is completely unacceptable! 

I've reached out to Loud Sound, a management firm that organizes Bestival, Hyde Park, and Corona Sunsets (to name a few), and asked if this would be viable. I'll update this post when/if they respond.

Don't even bring up price difference. Stop. Just stop. No! Stop.

Both Shine Shack and Eco-Glitter Fun sell curated collections of their products, with collections that sell for <£30.

One of Shine Shack's PET glitter collections is priced at £26.95 ($36.44). That's five pots, 5 grams each, or $1.46 per glitter gram. 

Eco-Glitter Fun has a £25.00 ($33.80) collection with seven bottles, 3.5 grams each. That's $1.38 per glitter gram.

I’m no math genius, but I’m pretty sure $1.38 is lower than $1.46. Bio-glitter, therefore, is better for fish, your face, and your wallet.

Now what?

When I started writing this article, I wanted to hate glitter -- all glitter. I viewed it as putting trash on your face, then washing it into the ocean. In fact, I hadn't even bothered to Google, "biodegradable glitter" when I wrote the first sentence. 

I wanted to call for a blanket ban on all glitter at festivals -- starting with harassing Bestival on Twitter (The #Resistance starts with 140 characters). The deeper I dove, the more I saw no amount of eco-wokeness will put an end to it. Luckily, any unsustainable industry opens the market for sustainable substitutes -- it's what the people want, dang it! The internal combustion engine led to Tesla's electric car. Coal power led to wind and solar power. Animal and PET leather created a need for Pinatex

It's only a matter of time before PET glitter is forced out of the market. While we're waiting for festivals to ban it, vote with your dollars and seek out the (cheaper) biodegradable alternative.