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Researchers create sustainable, biodegradable, vegan glitter in the hope of reducing plastic pollution


Around 5,500 tonnes of microplastics are produced in Europe every year, but scientists believe they have found a way to mass produce a sustainable alternative.

Christmas is fast approaching and glitter is often used to bring an extra sparkle to your home around the festive period. It is also messy, unsustainable and contributes to plastic pollution, but researchers from Cambridge University believe they have found the solution.

Researchers have created sustainable, non-toxic, vegan and biodegradable glitter that still has the same shine as the original and with the added benefit of hues that won’t fade, its creators say.

Senior author Professor Silvia Vignolini, from Cambridge University’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, said: «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.»

The eco-friendly alternative replicates the way some of the brightest colours in nature are made using cellulose found in the building blocks of cell walls in plants, fruits and vegetables. It can bend light to create vivid colours through a process called structural colour. This is the same process that created the colours found on butterfly wings and peacock feathers.

Prof Vignolini said the new glitter will still have all the fun of the original and the hues won’t fade, even after a century.

Beyond glitter, researchers say this new technology could replace the plastic glitter particles and tiny mineral effect pigments that are often found in cosmetics. The cosmetics industry uses about 5,500 tonnes of microplastics every year in Europe alone.

This sustainable breakthrough is also the first time that these materials can be created on an industrial scale. Using a roll-to-roll process similar to those used to make paper from wood pulp, researchers are able to produce large sheets that can then be ground down into environmentally-friendly glitter size particles. The study showed that the entire process is far less energy-intensive than conventional methods. While more work is needed on the process, the researchers hope to form a spin-out company to make their pigments and glitters commercially available in the coming years.

Prof Vignolini said: «We believe this product could revolutionise the cosmetics industry by providing a fully sustainable, biodegradable and vegan pigment and glitter. Consumers are starting to realise that while glitters are fun, they also have real environmental harms. This glitter will be just as annoying — but it won’t harm the planet and is safe for your little ones.»


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