Some of the UK’s leading glitter retailers, brands and experts are warning that unscrupulous firms are misleading or, even worse, simply lying about the green credentials of their sparkly products to sell to the unsuspecting public.
Traditional glitter, a form of microplastic, received particularly bad press a few years ago because of its toxic impact on marine life.
The result of this was a huge surge in demand for environmentally friendly glitters. But, according to experts, many of the 'green' glitters that have come out of the woodwork aren’t actually as eco-friendly as they may sound.
Stephen Cotton, the commercial director of Ronald Britton Ltd, the inventors and manufacturers of Bioglitter, the world’s first naturally degradable glitter, said: “Glitter greenwashing is not to be underestimated.
"We are aware of a number of glitter sellers and manufacturers who are making misleading claims about the eco credentials of their products, and in some cases even counterfeiting test reports.
"In reality the glitter being sold is no better than plastic in terms of environmental microplastic pollution and is misleading well intentioned consumers.”
Some of the manufacturers greenwash their own products and then sell them on in bulk to unsuspecting retailers or nationwide brands that are looking to source eco-friendly glitters for use in cosmetic beauty products, or for coatings on products like clothing, flowers and stationery.
Cotton went on to say: “Whenever there is significant disruption to a market, like we find in the glitter industry at the moment, there is an opportunity for unscrupulous companies to capitalise on the initial confusion as the market is unfamiliar with new technologies and terms.
"Unfortunately, the glitter market is not immune to this. As the market leaders of eco-glitter technology, we feel that empowering the consumers and brand owners to make informed decisions on their purchasing choices, through awareness and increased knowledge around the subject, is essential.
"It will also enable the industry to quickly move through this phase as the market becomes more familiar with the new standards that products need to achieve to make the cut as truly eco-friendly.”
Andrew Thompson, technical director of Ronald Britton, said: “There has been a number of cases of glitter manufacturers making dubious claims about the composition of their products and their biodegradability, essentially greenwashing the products they offer.
"This is a major frustration for a business like ours, that has invested years in developing a green product. We welcome competition, however it’s not a level playing field if some companies are content to sell non-eco-friendly glitter to unsuspecting clients.
"We’ve seen evidence of the same test report being used by several companies to claim biodegradability in the natural environment, however when scrutinised the test results show the glitter exhibits only modest breakdown under industrial composting conditions.
"This is nowhere near the test performance required to meet the claimed credentials of biodegradation in freshwater and natural environments.”
Biodegradability is a key quality consumers and brands are looking for. The potential pollution created by traditional glitter is in natural environments, therefore the essential requirement is a glitter that will actually biodegrade in natural environment- and not just in environments like composting.
However, the environment is not the only factor. Time to biodegrade and how much biodegrades are also essential components in understanding biodegradability performance.
Glitter sellers like Eco Glitter Fun have all said that it is the very nature of biodegradability being a complex subject that has led to it being open to abuse.
Sophie Awdry said: “Being a complex subject there is a good deal of greenwashing occurring. There are a lot of companies claiming their glitter is biodegradable, but biodegradable is just a word and doesn’t actually mean anything, unless qualified in terms of how much, how long, and where.
"If it takes 100 years to biodegrade, if just a small percentage biodegrades or if it needs special composting conditions, then it’s not eco-friendly in terms the natural environment.”
Glitter is made from several ingredients. The main ingredient is the core film, on which the colour, reflective and special effect coatings are applied. The resulting coated film is then cut into typically hexagons to make the finished glitter product.
Thompson commented: “As the core film is the main ingredient in glitter it is often the focus of biodegradability claims, however, the coatings applied to it will influence its ability to biodegrade.
"This is why biodegradability claims made on the basis of the core film alone don’t tell the whole story, and why independent testing of the actual finished glitter, coatings and all, is essential.”
For consumers and brands looking to buy a truly eco-friendly product, the key is to look at the independent test data which reveals the level of biodegradability of glitter.
Awdry added: “The way to not get greenwashed is do your research and look for evidence of actual test data on glitters by a recognised, independent testing organisation, such as freshwater testing by trusted independent companies like OWS, Belgium or even better third party test data verification and certification by companies like TÜV, Austria.
Inez Monteny, marketing and sales engineer at Belgian independent biodegradability tester OWS, said: “Products can be certified by independent labs, though many don’t bother."
Kath Senior from EcoStardust, another one of the UK’s leading consumer eco-glitter brands, said: “Manufacturers who publicise their test data and report high levels of biodegradation, or even better have certification for freshwater biodegradability from independent third party organisations like TÜV Austria, one of the toughest and well regarded, are the glitters to opt for.”
Bioglitter replaces the use of plastics in the core of glitter with a plant-based product, MRC. This special form of cellulose, unique to Bioglitter, is stable and won’t degrade on the shelf, however once it enters soil, compost or water environments where microorganisms are present, the glitter will naturally decompose.
Ronald Britton has a vested interested in trying to tackle the issue of greenwashing in the industry and has launched their own scheme to ensure consumers know the sparkles they buy are actually environmentally friendly.
Stephen Cotton said: "We’ve been working with brands who sell glitter or glitter containing products, the likes of Eco Glitter Fun or EcoStardust and larger brands, as well as big retailers like Primark, T-Zone and Monsoon Accessorize to set up a scheme allowing authorised brands to use our protected Bioglitter logo.
“Most of the companies that now sell genuine ‘natural environment biodegradable’ glitter or use it in their products, display our Bioglitter logo either on the packaging itself or on their website. We also list all companies authorised to use our Bioglitter trade mark registered branding to prevent any ‘passing off’.”
Paul Owen is a content and media specialist with more than 18 years’ experience writing articles for specialist sectors including manufacturing, technology, environment, FMCG and new product development.
Image: Ronald Britton.