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All That Glitters: The History of Shiny Things

All That Glitters: The History of Shiny Things. What a excellent addition to our collection of How Things Are Made. Update: Plus, a strange journey to the glitter factory from The New York Times:

What is glitter? The simplest answer is one that will leave you slightly unsatisfied, but at least with your confidence in comprehending basic physical properties intact. Glitter is made from glitter. Big glitter begets smaller glitter; smaller glitter gets everywhere, all glitter is impossible to remove; now never ask this question again…

Humans, even humans who don’t like glitter, like glitter. We are drawn to shiny things in the same wild way our ancestors were overcome by a compulsion to forage for honey. A theory that has found favor among research psychologists (supported, in part, by a study that monitored babies’ enthusiasm for licking plates with glossy finishes) is that our attraction to sparkle is derived from an innate need to seek out fresh water…

Because each particle is less than five millimeters long, plastic glitter falls under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s definition of microplastic — a category of material that has lately become a focus of environmental advocacy… While the research is conclusive that the world’s oceans are a cold stew of man-made microplastics, the effect of their presence is not fully understood. NOAA’s “Ocean Facts” webpage warns that these particles pose “a potential threat to aquatic life,” but states that “not a lot is known about microplastics and their impacts yet.” A more fundamental problem, said Dr. Miller, is that, like all plastics, “glitter is a petroleum product. It comes directly from fossil fuels, and fossil fuels are a very finite resource and we’re using them to make completely disposable things.”

Next: Ocean Confetti, the challenge of micro-plastics.

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