Biodegradable Glitters - The Ultimate Guide to bio glitters
At Jest Paint we have been gathering information to write down an honest and in depth blog post about biodegradable glitters with the hopes of informing face and body artists around the world about the science behind biodegradable glitters as well as the science behind the alleged damage that polyester glitter can cause to the environment. To be clear we do not want to take sides on this, but rather gather information and allow artists to make their own decisions based on that information. We offer both kinds of glitter at our face paint store, and you can find our selection of biodegradable glitters and regular polyester cosmetic glitters on our website.
What is biodegradable glitter?
There is no official definition of what biodegradable glitter is in the USA, and hence there are many different kinds of glitters that now have that label attached to them, yet their properties are very different. Since this is a fairly new product, there are no regulations indicating what standards specifically a biodegradable glitter should meet to be allowed to be called bio degradable. There are plenty of regulations and standards for plastics in general.
There are several regulations in the USA referring to plastic based products in general labeled as biodegradable or compostable, but they are mostly targeting plastic bags, like the ASTM D6400-04. There are some states with their own regulations but most of them cover only plastic bags and not all plastic products.
In general, we refer to bio glitter as a glitter than can decompose or bio degrade under some circumstances: either when treated at a special treatment plant, or when in contact with fresh water at a similar rate to that of a non plastic product.
Usually bio degradable glitters are made from cellulose or other plant based resins, although not all bio degradable glitters are 100% plastic free. Some have a plastic coating that does not decompose or at least it doesn’t do it at a fast enough rate to not become an issue in our oceans.
The only glitter we are aware off that is 100% free from any plastic is the Cosmetic BioGlitter® Pure one. This is not to say that there are no other brands out there that can hold such standard, we just have not found any yet. Keep in mind that many glitter brands buy this bio glitter from the manufacturer and re name it using their own brand name. You can check on BioGlitter®’s website to see who their authorized distributors are.
Most of the polyester in regular cosmetic grade glitter is replaced by cellulose from hard wood trees like eucalyptus to produce the bio degradable kind.
Are there different kinds of cosmetic Bio Glitter?
Yes, not only the materials used are different but also the conditions under which they decompose or degrade are also different. When buying glitter branded as bio degradable it is important to ask under which conditions it bio degrades, decomposes or breaks apart:
- only on industrial composting sites
- in home composting bins
- in fresh water
Here are some important definitions to keep in mind, quoting from the article mentioned below:
Degradable – All plastic is degradable, even traditional plastic, but just because it can be broken down into tiny fragments or powder does not mean the materials will ever return to nature. Some additives to traditional plastics make them degrade more quickly. Photodegradable plastic breaks down more readily in sunlight; oxo-degradable plastic disintegrates more quickly when exposed to heat and light.
Biodegradable – Biodegradable plastic can be broken down completely into water, carbon dioxide and compost by microorganisms under the right conditions. "Biodegradable" implies that the decomposition happens in weeks to months. Bioplastics that don't biodegrade that quickly are called "durable," and some bioplastics made from biomass that cannot easily be broken down by microorganisms are considered non-biodegradable.
Compostable – Compostable plastic will biodegrade in a compost site. Microorganisms break it down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass at the same rate as other organic materials in the compost pile, leaving no toxic residue.
What is the alleged problem with regular polyester glitter?
It is a well documented fact that our oceans are filled with trash, mostly plastic, that is contaminating the waters. Not only it is killing marine life by choking or disabling them, but we now know that it is being ingested by marine life and it can poison them from inside, and eventually even poison our food supply for those that eat fish.
A recent study conducted in the UK found that one third of all fish examined had micro plastics inside of them, but none of it was actually glitter.
Here is a quote from an article published by National Geographic:
“So while there is evidence of accumulation of microplastics in general and evidence of harm from lab studies, there is a lack of clear evidence specifically on glitter,” says Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth in western Britain and a leading expert on microplastics. “We have microplastic particles in around one third of the 500 fish we examined in the English Channel, but we did not find any glitter.”
Alice Horton, a research associate at Britain’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, told National Geographic there is no concrete data on glitter. Studies on the effects of microplastics, she adds, are “highly variable, depending on the type and shape of the particle, so it’s hard to say what any likely ecological effects would be.”
Here is a link to another study done on micro plastics that also does not mention the presence of glitter in ocean water, instead it mentions textiles and tyres as the major sources of micro-plastics, as well as well as the use and maintenance of plastic products in households.
Does that mean that we should not be concerned about polyester glitter in our oceans? In our opinion what this means is that more studies need to be done and that currently there is no scientific data proving that polyester glitter is making its way into the oceans and polluting our waters. When people are calling for bans, you do have to wonder who is the call coming from. Is it from recognized scientist or environmental activists that are using proven data, or is it from lobbyists or freelance writers paid for by the industries producing the newly developed bio degradable glitters? We don’t know the answer to some of those questions, but they are valid questions you should ask yourself before deciding what you think you should do.
We do agree that protecting our oceans is important, and if bio degradable glitters will make a difference, then it is great to have the option available.
What are the standards regulating Bio glitters?
There is no specific standard created for glitters. The current standards have been developed for plastics in general, and in order for a product to meet the standard it has to pass the specific tests described by each institution. Most of these standards are created by private organizations and not governments. Always make sure to check on the credibility of the organization certifying the product since that will give you piece of mind knowing that the process is serious and professionally conducted.
ISO norms and ASTM norms are the most popular norms for product’s standards.
One of those standards is the one set by the ISO 14851:2019: Determination of the ultimate aerobic biodegradability of plastic materials in an aqueous medium -- Method by measuring the oxygen demand in a closed respirometer.
This standard is designed “to determine the potential biodegradability of plastic materials or give an indication of their biodegradability in natural environments.”
Another regulation is the one set by the Federal Trade Commission in the USA called “the Green Guides”. These are a set of rules that regulates wording that can be printed on products and their packaging so that they do not deceive the public. You can read more about them here:
There are a lot of local regulations out there as well, but most apply to plastic bags. You can see a list of some of them here: http://biobagusa.com/about-biobag-2/regulations/
An international lab has designed a test to determine if the content of carbon from a specific product is from natural (plants, etc.) or synthetic sources (petrochemical or coal, i.e. fossil-based). Although these tests are designed by a private institution that is not a world recognized certifying entity, it is none the less another way of proving if a bio glitter is plant based indeed. So, a glitter holding such certification provides another level of assurance that the product will bio degrade as specified.
Is there any proof to the potential harmful effects of polyester glitter?
Currently, there are no scientific studies that we know of that specifically indicate that glitters have been found in the oceans and is a cause of pollution.
We talked with someone in the industry that has been selling cosmetic grade glitter for a long time and we were told that through conversations with professionals working at a waste water treatment plant the worker stated that most micro plastics coming through our waste water systems can be caught by the filters. Then the collected sludge is processed to be used as fertilizer by many cities. In this case, if the glitter you use is certified bio degradable in special composting facilities, this is likely to be enough as that is where the glitter will likely end up once it is washed off from your face and rinsed down the sink.
This particular study mentions how waste water plants are particularly good at catching micro-plastics before they reach our waterways: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26795302?fbclid=IwAR2wb36WDYXITuUFLrHVPXdC4x9qjlrNJuKr1Md4XcmXGLtdjTmk3qt7RLM
This other study says that they found a lot of micro-plastics downstream from waste water treatment plants, but they appear to be unable to determine if the micro-plastics came from water that was not well treated by the plant or the micro-plastic was added to the stream by other sources after the water had been through the water treatment plant:
Keep in mind again that so far no glitter has been found by scientific studies in our oceans, and based on most studies the sources of micro plastics in the ocean are the larger plastic products that de compose and break down in the ocean when in contact with waves, salt water and the sun light. This means that so far there is no study showing that micro plastics make it into the ocean but rather they form there from the break down of larger plastics.
Who is writing those articles about bio glitters vs polyester glitters?
We looked into several articles written around the internet about bio glitters, some are written by the manufacturers or sellers of bio degradable glitters, and some are written by free lance writers that are usually hired by publications to write about important or hot topics. Their credentials are hard to establish as they are not internationally well known journalists, and most of them cite the same study done in the UK where one third of all fish captured had micro plastics inside them, but none of them had glitter.
A lot of times free lance writers are paid for by industry members to write articles in favor of a product they produce or against a product produced by a competitor using sketchy facts. This helps spread information that might not be all true, but it helps with the purpose of promoting a product or bashing another one. We are in no way suggesting this is the case with bio glitters, but we are letting you know that things like this happen and that is why it is always important to check the source of the article, the source of the data cited by the author and the credentials of the person writing it.
Is Bio Glitter the Solution?
We don’t believe that the scientific data available has proven that bio glitters are yet the solution, since there is no data proving that polyester glitter is a problem. But that is just our opinion based on our own research. We do believe that trying to reduce the amount of plastic that we consume is important no matter what. But, when doing so, we have to check and confirm that the solution proposed is really better than the issue we are trying to solve.
It is a documented fact for example that corn based plastics can actually cause more environmental harm than their petroleum-based counterparts. Corn plastic can create more green gas emissions when they end in a landfill than regular plastics. A lot of corn-based plastics come from genetically modified corn, which is also an issue according to some scientists since we are not yet fully aware of the consequences of genetically modified plants. Also, many plant-based plastics are treated with chemicals for durability that can have other adverse effects on our health. See the recent case of food plates: https://www.newsweek.com/chipotle-sweetgreen-bowls-cancer-1452819
Also, according to another article:
“While bioplastics are generally considered to be more eco-friendly than traditional plastics, a 2010 study from the University of Pittsburgh found that wasn't necessarily true when the materials' life cycles were taken into consideration. The study compared seven traditional plastics, four bioplastics and one made from both fossil fuel and renewable sources.
The researchers determined that bioplastics production resulted in greater amounts of pollutants, due to the fertilizers and pesticides used in growing the crops and the chemical processing needed to turn organic material into plastic. The bioplastics also contributed more to ozone depletion than the traditional plastics, and required extensive land use. B-PET, the hybrid plastic, was found to have the highest potential for toxic effects on ecosystems and the most carcinogens, and scored the worst in the life cycle analysis because it combined the negative impacts of both agriculture and chemical processing.”
That same articles points out that:
“While the biodegradability of bioplastics is an advantage, most need high temperature industrial composting facilities to break down and very few cities have the infrastructure needed to deal with them. As a result, bioplastics often end up in landfills where, deprived of oxygen, they may release methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
When bioplastics are not discarded properly, they can contaminate batches of recycled plastic and harm recycling infrastructure. If bioplastic contaminates recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate, the most common plastic, used for water and soda bottles), for example, the entire lot could be rejected and end up in a landfill. So separate recycling streams are necessary to be able to properly discard bioplastics.
The land required for bioplastics competes with food production because the crops that produce bioplastics can also be used to feed people. The Plastic Pollution Coalition projects that to meet the growing global demand for bioplastics, more than 3.4 million acres of land—an area larger than Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark combined—will be needed to grow the crops by 2019. In addition, the petroleum used to run the farm machinery produces greenhouse gas emissions.”
In the case of bio glitters, most are not competing with land used for food since they come from the cellulose from eucalyptus trees, and not corn, but we do have to keep in mind that as of right now the only known 100% water biodegradable cosmetic glitter we know of comes all the way from the UK, so the shipping of the product from the UK to places like the USA requires burning fuels that also causes environmental damage.
Some questions remain to be answered, like, is the use of fuel to bring bio glitter from the UK less of a harm to the environment than the use of polyester glitter made in the USA? As we look into solutions to our problems, we should look into the entire process. Is the plantation of eucalyptus in areas were such tree is not local causing environmental damage to other species and competing with natural habitats? The same questions apply to polyester based glitter. Is the oil wells used degrading our natural areas? How about the waste waters from the production plants?
The most important thing is to not be green washed. It is great to look for solutions, but we should always go beyond the marketing and focus on the facts.
How about Packaging of Bio Glitter?
Another important issue to focus on is packaging. We have seen plenty of biodegradable glitter packed in non-bio degradable packing. That is of course something to point out. We are still reducing the amount of plastic used, but not to 100%.
Are there any better practices we can have with Polyester glitter?
Yes, you can always suggest your customers to gently scrape off or wipe off the glitter with a tissue and dispose it with their regular trash rather than flushing it down the water system, to prevent the glitter from ending in our waterways.
As we work on having more environmentally friendly practices to live in a cleaner world, it is important to remain alert and not be pulled in by marketing. Focusing on scientific data and proven facts will help us make better decisions. Also, although every step forward is better than not moving at all, if you have to choose were to start, we always suggest for you to start with steps that will have the largest impact. Currently, plastic bottles and plastic bags and packing are the number one contributor to ocean pollution. The goal is always first to reduce, then compost, re-use and then recycle.
At Jest Paint we are constantly doing our part by using bio degradable bubble wrap, using bio degradable plastic bags for our TAP Stencils and recycled cardboard for our TAP Stencil cards, and we are soon moving to compostable plastic bags for the bags we use to bag our products before we ship them. We continue to work with manufacturers to lower their use of packaging, and work on more environmentally friendly practices. Our Bolt brushes have wooden handles from responsible managed forests, and we continue to look into other opportunities to contribute with our environment.
Please note: we are not lawyers, scientists or journalists so all of the content here published should be taken as an opinion. We suggest for you to contact scientists or professionals on the field if you have specific questions about this topic.