'All glitter should be banned': Scientists' calls for microplastic bans echoed in Australia

Josh Dutton

An Australian conservation group is echoing scientists' calls for glitter to be banned amid fears microplastics will devastate ocean life and harm humans.

Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife CEO Ian Darbyshire said Australia should follow the US and a UK preschool company's lead and stop using glitter and microbeads.

“The problem is you go home wearing glitter or have microbeads in your makeup,” he said about those hard, tiny balls of plastic found in toiletry products that end up washed down the drain.

“You wash them off and they go straight from the shower to the ocean.”

Tops Day Nurseries banned the use of glitter earlier this year over environmental concerns. Source: AAP

Mr Darbyshire explained plankton eat the microplastics that are then consumed undigested by bigger and bigger fish, “even whales”.

“They make their way into the food chain because fish and other animals can’t break them down,” he said.

“We’re then eating the fish and we can’t break them down either. It’s frightening stuff.”

Microplastics are defined as plastics less than 5mm in length and found in facial scrubs and body washes, listed as polyethylene, polypropylene or similar names in the ingredients.

The dazzling craft product is also a microplastic and this week New Zealand scientist Dr Trisia Farrelly declared “all glitter should be banned”.

“All glitter should be banned because it’s microplastic and all microplastics leak into the environment,” Dr Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist at Massey University, told National Geographic.

Last month Tops Day Nurseries in southern England stopped using glitter. Lush, a cosmetics company, has taken glitter out of its products because of the environmental impact and turned to ground almond as a microbead substitute.

As of July this year the manufacture and sale of all microbead washable cosmetics were banned in the US, following the leads of California and Illinois.

But Mr Darbyshire says Australia needed to follow suit and ban microplastic manufacturing here - including glitter.

"Glitter is a microplastic," he said. "It's causing lots of problems."

In August a spokesperson from the Department of Environment and Energy told the consumer group Choice 80 percent of companies with products containing microbeads had or were being phased out.

Scientists are warning about the effects glitter can have on the ocean. File pic. Source: AAP

They added “if the current industry-led approach does not effectively phase out microbeads by mid-2018, governments will move to implement a ban".

A study by Professor Richard Thompson, from the University of Plymouth’s faculty of science and engineering, claimed that plastics were found in a third of all fish caught in Great Britain.

“I was quite concerned when somebody bought my daughters some shower gel that had glitter particles in it,” Professor Thompson said.

“That stuff is going to escape down the plughole and potentially enter the environment.”

But Mr Darbyshire said along with banning microplastics more needs to be done to protect our oceans.

“Firstly, we need to stop using plastic bags – they become a microplastic through breakdown from UV rays and waves,” he said.

“Microplastics can be a by-product of what’s already been thrown in the ocean.

“Secondly, we all need to be getting out and cleaning up our oceans.”

A humpback whale swims in the Pacific Ocean. Scientists say the plankton they eat devours micro plastics. File pic. Source: AAP