All That Glitters is… Microplastic? The EU’s New Glitter Ban & Plastic-Free Alternatives

In mid-October, the European Union (EU) implemented a ban on glitter made of plastic particles smaller than 5mm—considered microplastics—that are resistant to degradation. This translates to a total ban on loose plastic glitter often used in crafts and in decorating, as they are ready-made microplastics that easily pollute the environment and human bodies. 

The new ban apparently caused a small glitter panic-buying spree among lifestyle influencers in Germany, among other parts of the EU. But the EU Commission stresses that loose glitters made of “biodegradable, soluble, natural, and inorganic” materials, such as minerals and plants, continue to be sold.

The ban will prohibit the use of plastic glitter in rinse-off cosmetics by 2027, in leave-on cosmetics by 2029, and in make-up and nail cosmetics by 2035. As it is a ready-made type of microplastic, banning glitter is a necessary early step in reducing the amount of microplastic pollution directly introduced to the environment and our bodies. However, microplastics are released by all plastic products, so a reduction in production and use of all plastics—including other ready-made microplastics, like microbeads—is ultimately necessary to address the problem.

Plastic-Free Glitter Alternatives

We know that once microplastics enter the environment and our bodies, they are notoriously difficult—if not impossible, in some cases—to remove. These microplastics readily pollute the environment, wildlife, and our bodies. With the recent EU ban, people are now looking for plastic-free alternatives. Here are some glitter options that are better for the Earth and our bodies:

1. Mica- and other mineral-based glitter: Glitter made of mica or other naturally glittery minerals like malachite are mined from the Earth in rock and has been traditionally prized in cosmetics.

2. Cornstarch-based glitter: This type of glitter can be made at home yourself relatively simply and inexpensively using just water, cornstarch, and natural food colorings. Not only is it DIY-friendly, it’s edible too.

3. Cellulose-based glitter: Cellulose-based glitter looks and feels a lot like plastic glitter, but is made using highly processed cellulose from eucalyptus trees.

4. Dyed salt or sugar: Table salt or sugar can be dyed using natural food colorings and dried in the oven to make glitter.

5. Colored rice or colored sand: Uncooked rice and light colored sand can be dyed using natural food colorings to create glitter and plastic-free confetti.

There are a few important things to consider when buying plastic-free glitter: With mica, salt, and other minerals, mining operations have been linked to environmental pollution and human rights issues; corn, eucalyptus, rice, and sugarcane crops are all linked to myriad human health, ecological, and social justice issues. Whenever possible, try to source your glitter or glitter ingredients in bulk and in plastic-free packaging or no packaging at all. Look for labels that indicate that what you’re buying is made, at minimum, of certified organic, biodegradable, and fair-trade ingredients. 

With increasing demand for plastic-free glitter, there are now many brands marketing “eco-glitter.” In some cases, these glitters are truly made of natural substances like minerals or sand, but in many cases they may also contain some microplastics, or are made from highly processed natural ingredients. 

And so while plastic-free glitter exists, it is also important to consider when and why we use glitter, and how much and where we use it. Less is more! 

Will you commit to being a part of plastic-free solutions? Say ‘no’ to single-use plastic.

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