Glitter, while used to make greeting cards and ornaments even more festive during this time of year, often gets stuck on everything from our clothes to couches, and doesn’t make for the most environmentally friendly decor.
Since the particles are often made of microplastics and aren’t biodegradable, glitter that washes off and makes its way from the pipes to the ocean or sea can become hazardous to marine life, be it as choking hazards or pollutants.
Fortunately, scientists from the University of Cambridge have invented a sustainable, vegan alternative to glitter, made from cellulose—a material found in the cells of plants, vegetables, and fruit.
“It will be just as annoying—but it won’t harm the planet and is safe for your little ones,” said Silvia Vignolini, a professor at Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry.
In a recently published paper, the researchers documented the process of how they put the cellulose into nanocrystals, allowing the filmlike layer to undergo a process known as ‘structural coloring’.
According to CNET, this phenomenon, which is also seen in glistening butterfly wings, forces light entering the nanocrystal to scatter in different ways, each emitting a unique color.
Not only are the materials used more eco-conscious, but alternative also glitter takes less energy to produce than the regular variant. Typically, minerals used to color glitter need to be heated to over 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in the use of tons of fossil fuels.
“Conventional pigments, like your everyday glitter, are not produced sustainably. They get into the soil, the ocean, and contribute to an overall level of pollution,” explained Vignolini.
“Consumers are starting to realize that while glitters are fun, they also have real environmental harms.”
Going forward, the scientists are confident production of sustainable glitter can be scaled up. Industrial equipment could be tweaked, so that corporations can use the biodegradable alternative for commercial production.
Additionally, they posited the cosmetics industry could be a key beneficiary of the newly created glitter, considering that many vegan and cruelty-free brands have been looking for a sustainable alternative that doesn’t harm marine life or pollute the environment.
“We believe this product could revolutionize the cosmetics industry by providing a fully sustainable, biodegradable, and vegan pigment and glitter.”