The Issues With Glow Sticks

Initially designed for military and civil security use for emergency lighting, glow sticks have purposes as different as tenting lights and night-fishing lures. But, you’ll most frequently see them dangling from the wrists of 7-year-olds at birthday events or brandished on nightclub dance flooring. They’ve turn out to be nearly synonymous with celebrations like Independence Day, Halloween, and music festivals. However after the celebration, what do you do with these plastic wands? Are glow sticks recyclable or reusable? And how are you going to get rid of them after they cease glowing?

As celebratory as they’re, glow sticks pose a number of issues for the setting:

  • They’re disposable, designed for single use.
  • They’re fabricated from plastic.
  • They’re non-recyclable.
  • They comprise questionable chemical compounds.

Glow Sticks Create Waste

There’s no query that we use plenty of glow sticks. Have a look round after a parade or a live performance. You’ll see 1000’s strewn concerning the floor. The glowing wands are enormously common. Amazon lists greater than 20,000 totally different merchandise underneath the class “glow sticks.” Occasion packs include lots of of versatile glow sticks that revelers can vogue into glowing necklaces, bracelets, headbands, and extra.

These disposable plastic tubes are single-use plastics — they will solely be used as soon as. Whereas they vary on how lengthy their chemical glow lasts, when it stops, they turn out to be waste. However issues about plastic waste don’t appear to be affecting their recognition; a report from Fact.MR tasks that glow sticks will solely enhance in recognition in the course of the subsequent decade.

Are Glow Sticks Poisonous?

Glow sticks use several chemicals to create their trademark glow. One, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), is banned in Europe to be used in cosmetics. The EPA put DBP underneath a danger evaluation to guage well being issues. Particularly, the EPA is trying into DBP’s results on reproductive and developmental health.

Glow sticks are sometimes labeled unhazardous, however shoppers have to be cautious of this declare. The time period unhazardous has no formal definition, in line with the Federal Commerce Fee. In different phrases, a product might be labeled as unhazardous, however no one is being held to account for making the declare.

Regardless of DBP being underneath an EPA evaluation, the North Carolina Poison Control Center states that glow sticks are low in toxicity. They are saying for those who ingest it, to not be “alarmed if lips and tongue glow for a couple of minutes.” You might be the choose on that one.

Close up of hands holding glow sticks
These glow glowing tubes are single-use plastics, including to our rising drawback with plastic waste.

How Ought to I Get rid of My Glow Sticks?

There aren’t plenty of nice choices for secure disposal. The chemicals used in glow sticks contaminate the plastic so it’s not recyclable. Worse, the chemical compounds can leak into soil and water as soon as they’re disposed of.

Some sources advise putting spent glow sticks in plastic bags or bottles earlier than tossing them within the trash. Have you ever ever seen what occurs to trash as soon as it’s picked up? Or watched a video of trash being added to the landfill? It’s laborious to think about that disposable glow sticks survive the bulldozer intact.

To stop the chemical compounds in conventional glow sticks from getting into the setting, we advocate treating them as household hazardous waste (HHW). Find an HHW drop-off location near you the place you’ll be able to get rid of these things safely.

Are There “Inexperienced” Choices?

Once more, a phrase of warning about over-generalized phrases that haven’t any regulatory muscle behind them. “Inexperienced” and “environmentally pleasant” are two phrases generally utilized by entrepreneurs who’re greenwashing the environmental security of their product.

An Amazon seek for “environmentally pleasant glow sticks” yielded 72 outcomes. A more in-depth take a look at three merchandise revealed little to point why they had been marketed as “environmentally pleasant.”

That being stated, there are barely higher alternate options to single-use chemiluminescent glow sticks.

1. LED Various

There are glow sticks that use LEDs (light-emitting diodes) as a substitute of chemical compounds for his or her mild supply. There are fairly a number of, judging by Amazon’s itemizing of 10,000 products underneath that search.

This Life-Gear’s reusable glow stick use LR44 button batteries that last as long as 200 hours. That’s a far cry from the disposable sticks that final lower than a day. You possibly can substitute the batteries to reuse the product again and again. Batteries are e-waste and have to be disposed of properly.

2. Photoluminescent Various

UVPaqlite’s photoluminescent glow sticks use giant strontium aluminate crystals. Just like glow-in-the-dark stars that youngsters stick on their partitions, their glow sticks take up ambient mild and glow for as much as 10 hours. Although they solely are available in one shade, UVPaqlite’s model might be recharged indefinitely.

3. Bioluminescent Various

Bioluminescence is the power of dwelling creatures to create their own light. One firm, Nyoka, is utilizing bioluminescence because the inspiration for its various to glow sticks. It has engineered a dissolvable powder that glows when added to water. At present offered out on pre-order, Nyoka’s light wands are reusable with supplemental bioluminescent expenses.

These mild wands aren’t a scalable — or reasonably priced — choice at this level. Nyoka offered them for $100 on its Kickstarter marketing campaign however the firm continues to be pretty new. It’s potential that, with every new part of growth, the value will come down.

To Glow or Not To Glow?

What’s an eco-minded particular person to do relating to glow sticks? As with so many different merchandise, your best option for the planet is just refusing to purchase them. However do these of us who care all the time must deny ourselves the enjoyable stuff?

Perhaps we’d like a little bit steadiness. Perhaps we don’t say no to all that glows. Perhaps we simply want much more individuals to affix us. Take into account this quote from zero-waste chef Anne-Marie Bonneau, “We don’t want a handful of individuals doing zero waste completely. We want tens of millions of individuals doing it imperfectly.”

One piece of recommendation: For those who should purchase a glow stick, you owe it to the planet to take the time to get rid of it responsibly.

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