How can you tell if glitter is biodegradable?
This is a tricky question.
The short answer is, you can’t.
It’s not possible to tell if glitter is 100% biodegradable. Not by looking at it.
This is why a lot of festivals have banned glitter. I spoke to a representative at Burning Man, who explained that it’s because “We can’t take someone’s word for it that the glitter they are using is biodegradable or not. There’s no way to know for sure.”
You’d have to take the glitter, immerse it in some water that has microorganisms in it (in other words, not fresh water), leave it open to the air, and wait… at least a few weeks. You could speed up the process by adding sun, or shaking the container every so often.
That said, there are some hints that your glitter might not be biodegradable, which might lead you (as an eco-concerned consumer) to ask a few tough questions. Here are some clues you can use to see if you need to investigate further to see whether your glitter seller is genuinely ethical and trustworthy, or simply green-washing.
Green-washing Clue #1:
Glitter is cut into lots of fancy, fun shapes
This one is the most surefire sign. Truly biodegradable glitter only comes in hex shapes. There are a few reasons. First, hexagons are the most structurally stable shape. The plant-based film that is used in biodegradable glitter is much softer than the PET film used in traditional glitter, so it’s harder to make irregular shapes stable at very small sizes. This is also the most common shape on the market, and those machines that cut glitter into teeny, tiny pieces are hella expensive. So if you’re seeing glitter that comes in the shape of hearts or stars, for example, you can be pretty sure it’s not good for the environment.
Green-washing Clue #2:
Glitter comes suspended in a gel or cream base
Biodegradable glitter is designed to ummm… degrade. That means when the cellulose plant-based material is combined with any kind of formulation that makes it sticky or tacky, coming into contact with that substance will make the glitter start to break down. Not immediately, but over the course of a few weeks.
It’s possible of course for biodegradable glitter to be put into these kinds of “easy to apply” formulations. But it’s impractical and highly unlikely. Why? Because truly biodegradable glitter won’t last long on the shelf like this, and a savvy business owner knows that expired inventory is wasted inventory. This is why our biodegradable glitter comes packaged loose and dry, so you can add a base gel or cream to it at the moment of application. It stays sparkly longer that way.
Green-washing Clue #3:
Glitter is sold very cheaply, or used in large quantity
Truly biodegradable glitter is much more costly to manufacture than traditional polyester glitter because it is made with plant-derived, renewable raw materials instead of super cheap PET film.
On a wholesale basis, the cost per kilo for the good stuff is about 10-20x that of the micro-plastic version. On a retail basis, the good stuff is sold for prices that range anywhere from 4-8x that of the micro-plastic version. If you’re good at math, you’ll realize that this means biodegradable glitter companies are choosing to take less profit than typical glitter sellers. You have to have some serious eco-driven ethics to intentionally decide to be a less profitable business.
Those Instagram influencers you see covered in glitter from head to toe for their photo shoots? They’re most likely straight-up lying to you when they reassure you that the glitter they're using is biodegradable. Unless these glitterati happen to be independently wealthy, or the photo shoot was sponsored by a company whose name is prominently mentioned. But even if you're just filthy rich… If you're all about image and you laid down some serious cash for the Earth-loving sparkles, wouldn't you want the world to know? If the pictured glitter is not mentioned as being biodegradable up front, it's probably not.
Green-washing Clue #4:
Glitter is packaged or shipped in plastic materials
This is not necessarily an indication that the glitter itself is made from micro-plastics, but it is definitely a sign that the company lacks congruence in its business choices. If they are promoting plastic-free glitter, but selling it in plastic packaging, that might lead you to wonder, how committed is this company to its stated eco-friendly business purpose?
The biodegradable glitter businesses with the highest levels of integrity are those that are making efforts to “green” every aspect of their business, not just the glitter product itself. We are the first to admit that this is not easy to perfect in the world that we live in. But if the packaging is plastic? Sorry, but frankly, we just don’t think they’re trying hard enough.
The same thing goes for companies that sell biodegradable glitter alongside single-use face and body jewels made of plastic! That's hypocrisy, pure and simple.
Since eco chic has become trendy, we have seen a lot of green-washing going around. Be a savvy shopper. If you are looking for biodegradable glitter and you happen to catch on to any of these clues, make sure you ask some more Q’s.