Over the time I have been writing this blog, one of the themes that has emerged is a strong desire to reduce the amount of plastic packaging that we use. I want to become more sustainable, taking care of the world I live in leaving a ‘feather light” footprint on the Earth. That whole concept – to leave a feather light footprint – is so much harder to achieve than it looks in popular glossy magazine articles. Hard, but I firmly believe that it is achievable – one step at a time. Today’s step towards a more sustainable future involves mircoplastic. In particular, craft glitter (but body glitter and make up glitters are equally problematic).
Microplastic contamination of the oceans is one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns. Microplastics are defined as small particles of plastic that are 100nm to 5mm in size . These microplastic particles are small enough to be ingested by many organisms and as a result there are concerns about bioaccumulation in our food chain. There are two ways microplastics are formed. Firstly, they can be formed from the breakdown of larger plastic debris in the environment. Secondly, they can be pre-made, such as the microbeads that were in common consumer products such as toothpaste and facial scrubs before they were banned in 2018 in New Zealand.
The term microplastic is commonly associated with the microbeads in cosmetics and toiletries. Of course there is more than one type of microplastic causing problems. Fibres from synthetic fabrics can get into the water from our washing machines, other types of plastic break down into micro-plastics once they are discarded. We saw this first hand when our family visited Mana Island earlier this year. We participated in a beach clean-up where we were astonished at the amount of plastic that you could pick up in one hour, but we were also dismayed to find fragile pieces of plastic that broke into ever smaller fragments at the lightest touch. This is a problem we are going to have to grapple with here in New Zealand too, because microplastics are being found around our coasts.
This is not just an environmental problem but also a health problem for us because these microplastics make their way into soils and waterways and from there into the ocean and ultimately into the food chain. Microplastic has now been found in humans for the first time. I don’t know about you but this causes me a lot of concern.
Did you know that glitter is actually plastic? Yep that’s right, that wonderful craft item we all take for granted. A must-have item in any home with kids and found everywhere at Christmas. Once you know that glitter is plastic it is alarming when you consider how it is used at kindergartens, playcentres, day care, or schools. Kids (and adults) throw this stuff around at every opportunity. It gets into hair (and eyes), stuck to skin, all over tables, chairs, and floors where it leaves a sparkly evidence of the activity you have just been doing. After the glitter is finished with, the tables get wiped down with a wet cloth that is rinsed in the sink and the glitter on the floor gets walked inside and outside (and everywhere in between) until it is vacuumed or mopped up.
It’s a similar story at home. My kids love art and craft. All three of them have been art and craft crazy since they were tiny. We’ve had our share of glitter and I have dealt with a fair number of unexpected glitter bombs! The most memorable glitter bomb occurred when I came back after a quick trip to the toilet to find my toddler had managed to spread glitter all over himself, the chair, the table, the floor, the window sill, and the kitchen bench behind him where it was adorning the loaf of freshly baked bread that was cooling on the bench. There were glittery footprints all around the kitchen and lounge. When he moved he appeared to be enveloped in a sparkling cloud, and he looked like a tiny Elton John. It was interesting trying to clean up after that.
A couple of years ago, I realised that glitter is, in fact, almost always plastic and therefore non-biodegradable. We haven’t bought any new glitter since. Having discovered the truth about glitter I was then confronted with what to use as an alternative. I had to come up with something to provide the razzle, dazzle, glitz and glam to the endless array of craft productions in our house. To begin with, I steered my kids into environmentally friendly (and cheaper) alternatives. We picked up acorn shells, autumn leaves, feathers, and even sand. We used flower petals too. We had a lot of fun, but it isn’t quite the same as glitter.
What did people use before glitter? I pondered this question for a while and then asked my mum who trained to be a kindy teacher in the 1950’s, “what on earth did you do before there was glitter?” Back then glitter was really expensive and was usually made from powdered glass. She suggested using dyed crushed up eggshells. Brilliant! I tried it, the kids loved it, and they could also be involved in the manufacturing process from beginning to end. We saved eggshells for weeks, and then we washed and dried them. I boiled water, added food colouring and a teaspoon of white vinegar (to set the colour) and added eggshells. I left them to sit in the hot dye till they looked nice and bright. Then we took them out and left them to dry in the sun on a paper towel. Magic! Bright and vibrant, the kids were instantly attracted to them. Once they had dried, the kids had a fabulous time crushing them up in their fingers on a tray. The end result was as fine or as coarse as you want to make it. The kids used it instead of glitter without any complaints. To my eyes it actually made for brighter pictures because glitter can appear dark if the light isn’t catching it but the coloured eggshells look bright from every angle.
Another technique is to dye rice, different shaped pasta, or couscous using hand sanitiser instead of water. This process is interesting because there are so many pasta shapes out there. You can even get alphabet pasta and dye that.
I wanted to see how successful dying pasta and rice would actually be, and so I set about dying small amounts of rice and pasta using hand sanitizer and food colouring. The results were lovely and bright. I left the coloured rice and pasta on plates to dry overnight. Next morning I showed my efforts to my 5 and a half year old son and 8 year old daughter as they ate breakfast. I asked what they thought of it and they were very impressed. So much so that I later caught my little boy setting up for a full-on craft extravaganza at the table with paper, glue, and glitter alternatives all set out ready for action. He was super keen to get started, before I had even had a chance to photograph the glitter alternatives for this blog post! I think that is an indication of how bright and enticing the finished product is. All three of my kids are really keen on these alternatives to craft glitter. It has all been a huge success. The whole process is great, from preparing them to using them, and it is a learning experience as well.
Here in New Zealand we have a word – Kaitiaki. It means guardians. That is how we should all see ourselves, as guardians of our land and the creatures we share it with. Today I showed my kids that we don’t need plastic glitter. It is just one step, but it is a step in the right direction. Why not give it a try. Kick the glitter habit and try plastic free craft fun.