In 2018, a New York Times article set off an internet firestorm when a spokesperson from a major glitter manufacturer refused to say who their biggest client was. The hints are tantalizing, and the theories about who is buying all the glitter and what is being done with it have run rampant. Let’s look at the various theories and see if we can learn something about glitter along the way.
Have you ever thought about glitter? No, I’m not talking about the critically acclaimed 2001 Mariah Carey movie that has garnered a whopping 2.4 stars on imdb. No, I’m talking about actual glitter. The mainstay of children’s art projects and stripper’s outfits for decades.
But like… what is it? It’s like someone took sheets of colorful shiny metal and cut it up into tiny little particles that bounce light in all directions, giving everything an effervescent shimmer. But it’s also course and sticky and (Anakin saying it gets everywhere)
It’s also kind-of a giant mystery. Because the biggest client for the biggest glitter company in the world is a secret. A secret that the company fervently guards. Which of course has prompted discussion all around the internet about who this client might be and what they’re using it for.
Basically… Who’s buying up all the glitter? And what are they doing with it?
What is Glitter?
So I guess we can start with that opening question, what is glitter?
Basically, glitter is plastic and aluminum. They take clear plastic film of various colors and then the aluminum is heated in a vacuum chamber until it deposits on the plastic. Then they chop it up into tiny flecks and there you have it. Colorful, shiny, glittery glitter.
From here it’s sold in all kinds of different sizes, from chunky glitter to glitter dust to glitter of various shapes. You can buy them at art supply stores and put them toward arts and crafts, and it’s used in the making of all kinds of toys and paint and stationery, the list goes on and on.
And I guess that’s what was on the mind of New York Times reporter Caity Weaver in 2018 when she interviewed a representative from a company called Glitterex, one of the top glitter makers in the world.
So the article is super interesting, I’ll link to it down below – there is a paywall; I can’t do anything about that but she travelled to the Glitterex headquarters in New Jersey, they talk about all the different kinds of glitter they make, how they vaporize aluminum to coat the mylar film, how they make iridescent glitter by layering different widths of film to reflect different wavelengths – it’s a decent read if you’re a nerd.
But it was a section about 3/4 of the way down the article that got the internet’s attention, where she recounts an exchange with Lauren Dyer, a manager at Glitterex who was showing her around:
When I asked Ms. Dyer if she could tell me which industry served as Glitterex’s biggest market, her answer was instant: “No, I absolutely know that I can’t.”
I was taken aback. “But you know what it is?”
“Oh, God, yes,” she said, and laughed. “And you would never guess it. Let’s just leave it at that.” I asked if she could tell me why she couldn’t tell me. “Because they don’t want anyone to know that it’s glitter.”
“If I looked at it, I wouldn’t know it was glitter?”
“No, not really.”
“Would I be able to see the glitter?”
“Oh, you’d be able to see something. But it’s — yeah, I can’t.”
I asked if she would tell me off the record. She would not. I asked if she would tell me off the record after this piece was published. She would not. I told her I couldn’t die without knowing. She guided me to the automotive grade pigments.
It turns out the internet also could not die without knowing this. Only difference is there was nobody there to guide the internet to automotive pigments.
Fairly soon after this article dropped in December 2018, a reddit user on r/unsolvedmysteries started a thread on the article. And conspiracy theories have been flying ever since.
But to get to the bottom of the glitter mystery, it might help to look at all the ways that we know glitter is being used. And seriously… It’s a lot.
Uses and History
I’m talking credit cards. Football helmets. Also, animal food?
Yeah, researchers use glitter-laced food to track animals through their droppings.
Companies put glitter in products to prevent counterfeiting. And glitter has been used in crime solving.
It’s not exactly DNA, but fragments of glitter have distinct properties that can be seen under a microscope.
Glitter has come up in court cases involving kidnapping, car crashes, and homicide. Variations in materials, colors, and shape have all been used to put people at the scene of a crime.
Holographic glitter is especially distinctive because of the grooves that make it refract light.
Glitter came into the world in 1934, when a German-American machinist named Henry Frank Ruschmann invented it by accident.
The story is he had a photo-cutting machine, and this machine had a minor flaw, a stutter that made it dust the floor with flecks of photo paper.
And one Christmas, some clever workers scooped up the flecks and used it as fake snow in their Christmas decorations. It quickly became popular, so Ruschmann built a machine to make it on purpose.
He was running a farm called Meadowbrook at the time, so he named his new glitter company Meadowbrook Farm Inventions. Now just called Meadowbrook Inventions.
And that company is still manufacturing glitter to this day, in fact it’s the second largest glitter company in the US. The biggest is Glitterex, even though they came into business way later.
Nobody seems to know. And Glitterex isn’t saying. But there are a lot of theories.
First place to go is straight to the source…of rampant speculation. The r/UnresolvedMysteries thread has a couple thousand comments, teeming with theories.
Obviously I won’t cover all of them, but these feel like the most plausible.
Theory #1 – Microtaggants
So I mentioned glitter’s use in law enforcement and anti-counterfeiting. Well it turns out that’s a pretty big market.
There’s a company called Microtrace that makes security devices that can be printed on or mixed into just about every product imaginable.
This includes things like special inks, RFID tags, and actual DNA.
They also sell tiny particles that can be used to identify explosives called Microtaggant(R) Identification Particles
The problem with this theory is, there’s not really any reason for them to be shy about it. I mean it would still work whether it was done with glitter or not.
Unless… it’s use is so widespread that it’s literally in everything around us… which is kinda creepy and maybe they don’t want everyone to know that.
But considering the importance of what they do and the potential for bad actors to take advantage of that knowledge… it’s not the dumbest theory.
Theory 2 – Marine Vehicle Paint
This theory was made popular by the Endless Thread podcast, nearly a year after the glitter mystery went viral.
Endless Thread is hosted by Ben Brock Johnson and Amory Silverstein, and in November of 2019, they visited Glitterex in the hopes of finding an answer to this mystery.
They tried to talk to Lauren Dyer but were unable to get an interview, or get anybody else to talk to them on the record.
So it was looking like a short episode, until a redditor who had been in glitter years ago offered his expertise.
If you really want to go down the rabbit hole, I’ll put the link to that episode down below, but to sum up, the expert said he was 99.9% sure the top glitter customer was making vehicle paint.
Wait, that’s not a secret, everybody knows they put glitter in paint.
But it turns out he wasn’t talking about car paint, he was talking about plane and boat paint.
So the hosts looked into that and found an inside source that worked for a company that makes marine vehicle paint, and he confirmed, they make a lot of it, a lot of it uses glitter, and a lot of that glitter comes from Glitterex.
So they’re definitely a huge customer – possibly the biggest, but… why does that need to be secret?
Like, everybody knows that there’s glitter in boat paint, it’s obvious. Besides, she said the customer isn’t what you’d expect and this feels pretty expected.
The only real argument for why boat manufacturers would want this hidden is because glitter is, almost by definition, a microplastic. And microplastics in oceans and waterways is becoming a real problem.
In fact, glitter’s environmental impact is pretty bad across the board. Not only are they made of plastic that will take thousands of years to biodegrade, but plastic is a petroleum product, and all the problems that come along with that.
So there might be a reason for them to keep mum about it, but honestly, I’m skeptical on this one. I always say the most mundane answer is usually the best one, but this is almost too mundane. I just don’t see it as something that needs to be kept that secret.
Theory 3 – Toothpaste
Here’s a fun one. What gives Crest that sparkle? Could it be metallized plastic?
I could totally see toothpaste companies not wanting people to know that they’re forcibly rubbing glitter into their teeth, that makes perfect sense. There is one problem with this one though.
And that problem is called the 2015 Microbead-Free Waters Act, which was signed by President Obama and prohibits companies from adding plastic flecks in products that are expected to be rinsed off.
And this is something toothpaste companies used to do but they’ve had to make changes. The law prohibits flecks smaller than 5 millimeters, so those would be some massive chunks of glitter in your toothpaste.
The law went into effect a year before the Glitterex interview, so that kinda kills this theory. Unless… they’ve continued doing it illegally. In which case they absolutely would want it kept quiet and I imagine Glitterex would want to keep it quiet as well for their own legal reasons. But I’m soft on this one.
Theory 4 – Rocket Fuel
That’s right, nerds, somehow there’s a rocket element to this.
So, once upon a time, Meadowbrook Inventions used to produce a material called zirconium which was used in solid rocket fuel, as well as fireworks and artiliery shells.
Zirconium is not glitter, but glitter and rocket fuel do share a common ingredient, aluminum.
As I’m sure many of you already know, aluminum powder is a key ingredient in solid rocket boosters like the Space Shuttle and now the Space Launch System.
So it’s the same materials and a glitter manufacturer would be well positioned to make a massive amount of it… This one’s not totally crazy.
But I think this might stretch the definition of glitter because I assume what they buy would just be the tiny flakes of aluminum without the plastic. Feels like plastic would just add weight without any benefit.
Unless just buying the glitter is cheap enough to justify it? In which case, that’s kinda wild to think that they’re just stuffing rockets full of glitter.
One thing from the interview that stands out is when she asked if you’d be able to see it and Lauren Dyer responded, “you’d see something.” Which a massive explosion or a launch would definitely be something to see.
My only big question is whether or not the rocket or fireworks industry is big enough to be their biggest client. That I’m still not sure about.
Theory 5 – Aircraft Chaff
I’ve saved this for last because I think there’s something here.
If you watch this scene closely, you’ll notice the button Mav presses is labelled “REMOTE FLARE/CHAFF”. Flares are for heat-seeking missiles. Chaff messes with radar guidance.
And guess what the chaff is made of! According to the US Department of Defense, “millions of tiny aluminum or zinc coated fibers”. Pretty close to glitter, right?
To dig a little deeper on this, there was a DoD report in 2018 that warned of risks from having a “sole source” of chaff. So it might make sense that they might be supplementing their chaff with glitter.
First of all, dumping 500 tons of particulates into the atmosphere is a big yikes for me dawg, but second, that’s just what they’re dumping. So you know they’re buying more than that.
We were able to track down that the sole supplier of chaff for the DoD is a company called Armtec Defense, who claim to produce “more than one-million pounds of chaff per year”. Do the math and you’ll notice 500 tons and one-million pounds…is the same.
Digging deeper, it turns out that number is a low-ball estimate on how much chaff is dumped in the US alone.
I like the timing of this theory. The DoD report came out in September 2018. The New York Times article came out later that year.
Also, I found an article online that says Meadowbrook Inventions produced chaff during World War II. So again, there’s a history here.
The only holes I can poke in this theory is why would the military care if the public knew about this? Unless knowing that would give our enemies a way to get around the chaff. And just the fact that the military is secretive about everything.
Also it looks like there’s another supplier that already provides the bulk of the military’s chaff and that Glitterex would just be a supplemental source, so not sure if it would be such a huge part of their revenue.
But then again, it’s the military, they’ve got a massive budget and any time you’re talking about national security, things get pretty secretive, so I feel like there’s something to this theory.
And look there are other theories, everything from the transportation system with all their signs and road paint, to makeup and pharmaceuticals, to cloud seeding and, of course, chemtrails.
But there may be an even more mundane solution to the glitter mystery than all the possibilities I’ve mentioned. Good old-fashioned marketing.
I mean, before this article came out and all the hoopla that was created, most people had never heard of Glitterex. And now we’re all talking about them, five years later.
It’s also possible that for whatever reason, they’re just a very secretive company. She talks at the beginning of the article about how restrictive they were about giving her access to their building and what they were willing to let her see. Maybe the answer is pretty mundane but this Lauren Dyer person didn’t want to say because she knew she’d be fired.
Or maybe… There’s some dark stuff going on that none of us can even imagine. Maybe the company is just a front and they’re really reverse-engineering UAPs in the basement… yeah, it’s probably that.
But I’m curious what you guys think? Anything I missed? Any of these stand out as extra plausible to you? Let me know in the comments.