If you're concerned about the fish, you most likely ditched your exfoliating face wash a long time ago. Microbeads, the tiny scrubby bits that did the exfoliating, are made from polyethylene plastic that doesn't degrade, that means that after you flush it down the drain, trillions of these small beads end up in your local waterways. In 2015, Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act, forbidding factories from producing rinse-off cosmetics (like face washes) with them.
Unfortunately, as AlterNet informs, face washes and different product covered by the law aren't the only concerns. There are microplastics in glitter, too. Yes, your make-up and classy highlighter is killing the environment. And that we all acknowledge how difficult glitter is to be eliminated.
Glitter is typically created by bonding some kind of reflective metal like tin foil to plastic. After you scrub those itty-bitty items of plastic glitter off your skin while taking a shower, those microplastics end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans, where they pile up—and are eaten by fish and shellfish. (That said, a controversial 2016 study that mentioned that fish like microplastics to natural food was retracted in 2017.)
The small fish eat the plastic, the massive fish eat the tiny fish, and we, in turn, eat the massive fish. A UN report in January 2017 found that microplastics make it back onto your plate, infiltrating the tissues of the fish you purchase at the food market. And also the plastic itself isn't even the entire problem—when plastic sits in the ocean, it's “a sponge for chemicals already out there,” as marine life scientist Chelsea Rochman told NPR in 2013. The toxic chemicals in our waterways make it up the food chain on the backs of these sparkling microplastics.
So yes, it's probably time to put away your highlighter and rethink your New Year's decoration. But, like most environmental issues humans have wrought, that won't make the matter disappear, since microplastics additionally come from [PDF] beach trash that degrades in the sunshine, from industrial sanding products, from small items of tires and materials, and more. But, as a baby step, act and quit with the sparkly stuff.