Originally posted on November 2, 2020 at 6:00 a.m.
By SUZANNE COLPRON, LA PRESSE
As the holiday season approaches, major UK retailers have decided to ban glitter from private label products. There will be no sparkles on greeting cards or wrapping papers or gift bags at Morrisons, Waitrose and John Lewis.
The reason ? Their composition and their very small size make them particularly polluting waste.
Most glitter is made from plastic sheets reinforced with aluminum foil. They are not recyclable and end up in rivers, lakes and oceans, where they take hundreds of years to degrade.
Impossible to pick up
“It’s very damaging because of the size,” explains biologist Lyne Morissette, from M – Marine Expertise, in Sainte-Luce, near Rimouski. It’s very, very small. So it goes through the filters of water treatment systems. Then, it’s nearly impossible to pick up. But just because it’s small doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The impacts on marine fauna are great. “
Scientists therefore advocate banning glitter because it is harmful to the environment and to health.
” It’s so small that it’s going to be filtered by organisms like mussels or whatever in the ecosystem that filters the water. Then, it will be filtered in the same way as food or plankton. ”– Lyne Morissette, researcher in marine ecology, about glitter
“Otherwise, for the small organisms that are able to chase their food – and that is true for any piece of plastic – it’s super attractive to a predator, especially if it’s glitter because ‘plus it’s attractive. When you look at the fishing tackle, it’s shiny and it’s made in glitter, because it works well and it attracts fish. “
Microplastics are immobile prey, easier to catch. “You don’t need to waste your energy chasing the prey,” illustrates Lyne Morissette. She is there, she is attractive. This is why the majority of marine animals eat plastic. “
We also eat it when we eat fish and shellfish.
Plastic in oysters
“Oysters, mussels, lobsters, fish eat small particles. So you’re going to find plastic in the digestive tract of the oyster you buy from the fish store, ”says Christopher Cameron, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Montreal.
In addition, the chaff, as it breaks down in the environment, releases chemicals that disrupt the hormonal function of animals and humans, which absorb them and can cause disease.
According to a study published earlier this month in the Frontiers in Marine Science Journal, around 14 million tonnes of microplastics are found in the seabed each year. And the quantities are expected to increase in the coming years.
Why not ban glitter in Quebec and Canada?
Are traders here not tempted to follow in the footsteps of major UK retailers?
“This is the first time I’ve been told about this,” said the spokesperson for the Association of Quebec Food Retailers, Sylvain Lacasse. Are grocery chains, like Metro or IGA, looking at this possibility? Perhaps. “
Metro grocery stores, to which we asked, do not have “private label products concerned with shiny.” Sobeys, which owns several supermarket chains, including IGA, did not respond.
« It’s coming »
Since 2018, the federal government has banned toiletry products containing plastic microbeads, but not glitter.
On October 7, he announced his intention to ban six single-use plastic items by the end of 2021. These items were chosen based on two criteria. The first: they are difficult to recycle. The second: there are alternatives to these products.
” We could not, for example, ban overnight the plastic for which there is no alternative, the one with which we make phones or computers, for example. It wouldn’t make sense. ”Lyne Morissette
The six types of items selected are plastic bags, straws, coffee stirring sticks, rings for beer or soft drink packets, and utensils and containers made of hard-to-recycle plastic.
Glitter could have been part of this list, believes biologist Lyne Morissette. They are not essential and you can find biodegradable sparkles. A few companies have already started producing it.
But it does not surprise her that it was English companies, rather than Canadian ones, which were the first to ban them.
“The English are pioneers in the field of plastics,” she emphasizes. They were the first to make groceries without packaging, and to offer new systems for presenting fruit and vegetables without packaging. Colgate announced last year that it was no longer making plastic toothbrushes, and it was Colgate UK that broke the news. It hasn’t happened here yet. So, to me, that’s no surprise. It’s kind of their trademark.
“But it comes here, it exists, it is doable. We have the technology and the innovations to do that. “
How Can You Help Reduce Waste?
It really isn’t that difficult to reduce plastic waste, which is why it’s so shocking that around 14 million tonnes of microplastics are found in the seabed each year. Here’s a few things you can do to help