Glitter litter could be damaging rivers

New research indicates that glitter could be causing ecological damage to our rivers and lakes. What’s more, biodegradable alternatives are no better for the environment, says the study.

The new research from Anglia Ruskin University found that after 36 days, the presence of glitter halved the root length of common duckweed (Lemna minor), while levels of chlorophyll in the water were three times lower than in control conditions, indicating reduced levels of phytoplankton, or microalgae.

Glitter is used in a variety of decorative ways. Traditional glitter is a form of microplastic consisting of a plastic core made of polyester PET film, which is coated with aluminium and then covered with another thin plastic layer, explains a statement.

Along with other forms of single use microplastics, such as microbeads, there have been efforts to phase out PET glitter with the introduction of more biodegradable alternatives.

One version has a core of modified regenerated cellulose (MRC), sourced mainly from eucalyptus trees, but this is still coated with aluminium for reflectivity and then topped with a thin plastic layer. Another form is mica glitter, which is increasingly used in cosmetics.

However, this new study found that the effects of MRC and mica glitters on root length and chlorophyll levels were almost identical to those of traditional glitter.

The only significant difference was a two-fold increase in the abundance of New Zealand mud snails (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) in water containing the biodegradable MRC glitter. These snails, commonly found in polluted waters, are an invasive species in the UK and an increase in numbers has the potential to disrupt ecosystems, as they can outcompete native species, says the statement.

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