As the semester makes its way to an end, many December graduates are beginning to do graduation photo shoots and are incorporating confetti in their photos. Although the idea isn’t new, the impact grows more and more dangerous.
When students use confetti for their photo shoots, they often leave the pieces for the wind to carry off later. Eventually, these confetti pieces end up in the local river, causing the native species of fish to ingest the plastic. The confetti causes harm to the internal organs of the fish when ingested.
Confetti and glitter contain many toxins that shouldn’t be consumed by animals, fish or humans. However, more often than not, students do not consider the after effects on wildlife or the environment.
Timothy Bonner, professor and director of the Aquatic Biology B.S. Program, studied the likelihood of fish having fragments of plastic inside their bodies in his research paper, “Occurrence and amount of microplastic ingested by fishes in watersheds of the Gulf of Mexico.”
Bonner said the negative effects on fish health are due to the toxic nature of plastic itself and pollutants in the environment absorbed by plastic. Toxic substances pass from microplastics to the carrier and accumulate in tissues, causing liver toxicity and lesions.
In his research, Bonner took a total of 419 fish from ten different aquatic sites and nine freshwater drainages of Texas, representing 44 species and 12 families. As a result, he found plastics including filament, fragment and film were detected in 34 individuals from urban and non-urbanized streams. However, in the Neches River, a more urbanized area, 29.2 percent of fish taken from the sample were found with an occurrence of plastics.
Through his research, Bonner was able to see the influence people have on aquatic environments through littering pieces of plastic, which he found to be harmful to both the fish and their surrounding environment.
According to the Meadows Center, there are eight known species listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department that live in the San Marcos region.Of those eight, the San Marcos Salamander, which has been threatened since 1980,and the Texas Blind Salamander, which has been endangered since 1967, are both risked if confetti or glitter ends up in the San Marcos river.
Since these type of photo shoots have emerged within the past two years, concerned campus departments have put up signs near Old Main and other Texas State landmarks to warn graduating students.
The Environmental Health, Safety & Risk Management department has partnered with University Marketing for designing temporary signage to post in problematic areas, such as the UAC and Quad, during peak times of the year. They are currently in the process of requesting funding for signage in accordance with University policies.
There are substitutes available for those who may still want to use confetti or glitter that may accent the pictures well.
Colleen Cook, environmental health and safety specialist,recommends using leaves, wild seed or even bubbles in photos for a similar effect. She also suggests using filters identical to having actually thrown confetti pieces.
The University Bookstore also sells a maroon “confetti” made from flower seeds that would add a touch of spirit to graduation photos and benefit the campus environment.
“The number one way to prevent confetti from ending up in the river is to avoid confetti use altogether and opt for more environmentally friendly options instead,” said Cook.
For those who would like to learn more about the risks of pollution in the San Marcos River, there are volunteer events, such as river cleanups and curb inlet marker installations that label drains. There is additional information on the What Goes Here Flows Here Facebook page.