The sparkly stuff we love in makeup, cards, and festive decor might not be as harmless as it looks. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil revealed that glitter can do some real harm to crucial ecosystems underwater, with tons of it ending up in the ocean– millions of metric tons, to be exact.
Glitter is everywhere, and it is notoriously difficult to wash off. But there’s a bigger issue: it’s made up of microplastics.
These tiny specks, usually crafted from materials like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), get a coating of aluminum to give them that signature sparkle.
The problem? They’re so small that wastewater facilities can’t catch them, contributing to a staggering eight million metric tons of glitter estimated to have made its way into oceans recently.
Glitter’s inability to decompose naturally creates multiple hazards for marine life, including consumption, exposure to harmful chemicals, and physical harm from its sharp corners. Because of its distinct size, form, and composition, it’s tough to accurately gauge the amount that’s polluting our waterways.
Researchers looked into how glitter impacts two kinds of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, which are crucial for underwater ecosystems.
These algae play a significant role in the cycles of water and soil, and they’re also a food source for other marine life.
Then, leveraging sophisticated techniques, the team evaluated how these algae grew when subjected to different levels of glitter exposure.
“We found that increasing the amount of glitter raised the biovolume of the cyanobacterial cells and boosted stress to levels that even impaired photosynthesis,” said Mauricio Junior Machado, the study’s first author.