All That Glitters….

By Fiona Grahame

We all like a bit of sparkle to brighten up the darkness of winter. Long before the invention of what we now think of as Christmas people were brightening up their homes and communities with all kinds of illuminations.

Christmas lights in Kirkwall

Tinsel, which we have come to adorn our indoor Christmas trees with, was first used in Nuremberg, Germany at the start of the 17th century. It was made of actual silver and later on other metals were substituted.

Aluminium was introduced into the manufacture of tinsel and then the big hit for the production of the sparkly stuff came when it became lead based. Lead based tinsel was very popular. By the late 1960s it was realised that this lead based tinsel was something of a health hazard as children could lick it.

baubles and tinselToday tinsel is plastic based. Which you might rejoice in as a great improvement compared to the  once popular lead variety. And of course it is in that children will no longer be poisoned by licking a tempting frond of silvery string. But not so great for our marine creatures where it adds yet more plastic  into the oceans.

Plastic based tinsel, glitter, hair extensions,nail art: all of these shiny glittery and oh so Christmassy decorations are contributing to the horrendous global disaster of plastic litter in our seas.

And don’t think ‘well that doesn’t really affect me’ – because it all ends up somewhere down the line in the food chain. It may not immediately poison you like the lead based tinsel of old but it will end up in your digestive system eventually. Marine creatures from the tiniest of organisms to the great Blue Whale will consume our plastic litter.

This year Greenpeace conducted a 2 month scientific voyage on their ship the Beluga II  researching ocean plastic around Scotland’s coastlines and  found plastic in the feeding grounds of basking sharks, in the habitats of  wildlife like puffins, seals and whales, and even in the nests and beaks of seabirds.

The key findings of the research included:

  • Beaches strewn with plastic
  • Microplastics in feeding waters
  • Plastic pollution in wildlife habitats
  • Animals entangled in plastic

It is all so unnecessary.

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.” Jacques Yves Cousteau, Oceanographer

Some parents were angry that children’s nurseries had banned the use of glitter. Did these same parents sit down with their kids to watch the BBC series the Blue Planet? Did they make the connection?

It’s not about being a grump at Christmas and doing away with all that glitters but it is about being more responsible about what we are creating .

What kind of legacy do we wish to leave for future generations?

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist: the threat is rather to life itself.”: Rachel Carson, Marine Biologist


Mother and baby sperm whale Gabriel Barathieu –

Related story:  Nurdles: A Toxic Plastic Problem

Regular contributor Bernie Bell has reminded us about this.

seabirds and plastic diver

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