Sunday, June 13

Major Retailers in Britain Say No to Glitter for Christmas

This year, the holiday season in the United Kingdom will be a little less sparkly.

Three major retailers — the grocery chains Morrisons and Waitrose and the department store company John Lewis — have announced that they will not use glitter in their in-house brand, single-use Christmas products this year. That means no glittery snowflakes on Christmas cards, no sparkling snowmen on stickers, and no twinkling stars on wrapping paper.

“Glitter is made from tiny particles of plastic and is an ecological hazard if it becomes dispersed on land, rivers and oceans — where it takes hundreds of years to degrade,” Morrisons said in a statement.

It appears that no similar glitter reckoning is underway in the United States. Major retailers including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS and Costco did not immediately respond to questions about whether they were making efforts to ban or limit glitter. The Environmental Protection Agency did not respond to questions about whether regulators or companies were taking steps to ban glitter in the United States, or how glitter bans could affect the environment.

Glitter, a pretty substance known not only for its utility in arts and crafts but also for its tenacity in sticking to clothing, carpets and car seats, is also (often) a microplastic, or a piece of plastic that is 5 millimeters or less in diameter.

The vast majority of microplastics in our environment did not start out so small; they were manufactured as larger pieces and broke down. That’s why plastic packaging is a much bigger threat to our ecosystem than glitter.

Also significant are the synthetic fabrics in many of the clothes we wear, which can introduce microplastic fibers into our water systems every time they go through a wash cycle.

So while consumer items like microbead exfoliants or glittery decorations may catch our attention and even inspire legislation, they make up a tiny fraction of the microplastics clogging our air and oceans. Banning these items is a small step in the right direction, Dr. Hale said, “but it doesn’t really solve the problem.”

Amy V. Uhrin, the chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Division, agreed that glitter was just one of many different kinds of microplastic pollutants. “It is difficult to say what impact a glitter ban would have,” she added.

Researchers are still trying to understand the reach and impact of sparkly microplastics, and Dr. Uhrin pointed to recent studies that found that glitter was abundant in some environmental samples, particularly in soils; and that significant amounts of glitter had been found in wastewater sludge.

John Lewis, Waitrose and Morrisons may have banned glitter in their holiday lineups, but they still sell products that include plastic or come in plastic packaging. Both Morrisons and John Lewis, which operates Waitrose supermarkets, said they had significantly reduced the use of plastic in packaging and inventory in recent years and had pledged to continue.

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