Scientists invent new type of glitter that is non-toxic, biodegradable, vegan and can be produced on an industrial scale

·3 min read
Scientists have invented a new biodegradable, vegan glitter. (Getty)
Scientists have invented a new biodegradable, vegan glitter. (Getty)

The sparkle season is almost upon us and that undoubtedly means getting out the glitter.

But while there’s no doubt the shiny stuff is super-pretty, glitter is actually helping to destroy the planet.

Remember the heartbreaking scene on Blue Planet where a mother whale nursed her dying calf? Well, environmentalists believe the calf was likely killed by microplastics, or tiny fragments of plastic in the sea. And that’s exactly what glitter is.

Thankfully, however, scientists have been working on a new type of glitter that is non-toxic, biodegradable, vegan and can be produced on an industrial scale.

The new sparkly decoration, revealed in the journal Nature Materials, is made out of cellulose - the main building block of cell walls in plants, fruits and vegetables – and apparently it is just as sparkly as the original.

Glitter 2.0 comes as environmentalists have called for a complete ban on glitter saying it is causing an environmental disaster.

Because glitter is so small, marine life mistakes it for food which in turn damages their livers and affects their function.

(SWNS)
The new sparkly decoration, revealed in the journal Nature Materials, is made out of cellulose. (SWNS)

Specifically, glitter is made up of bits of a polymer called polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which goes by the trade name Mylar.

A 2014 study estimated there are about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic weighing a total around 270,000 tons floating in the world's seas. 

Microplastics, also made of flakes from larger items like bottles and bags, made up 92.4% of the total count.

The new biodegradable glitter is made from cellulose nano-crystals derived from wood pulp, which can bend light to create vivid colours through a process called structural colour.

The same phenomenon produces some of the brightest colours in nature – such as those of butterfly wings and peacock feathers – and results in hues which do not fade, even after a century.

Watch: Meet the founder behind this plant-based, biodegradable glitter company

While biodegradable glitter has been on the market before, researchers say this is the first time these materials have been fabricated on an industrial scale.

Another plus point of the new glitter is that the process is far less energy-intensive than conventional methods.

"The challenge has been how to control conditions so that we can manage all the physical-chemical interactions simultaneously, from the nanoscale up to several metres, so that we can produce these materials at scale," Benjamin Droguet, PhD student and researcher at the University of Cambridge, explains.

“Traditionally, pigment minerals have to be heated at temperatures as high as 800°C to form pigment particles.

"When you consider the quantity of mineral effect pigments that is produced worldwide, you realise that their use is harmful to the planet."

(SWNS)
The new glitter is far less energy-intensive than conventional methods.(SWNS)

Professor Silvia Vignolini, also at the University of Cambridge, adds: “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. Consumers are starting to realise that while glitters are fun, they also have real environmental harms.”

She added: “We believe this product could revolutionise the cosmetics industry by providing a fully sustainable, biodegradable and vegan pigment and glitter.

“It will be just as annoying – but it won’t harm the planet and is safe for your little ones."

News of the new glitter comes as many major retailers have pledged to ditch the glitter from their Christmas products.  

Morrisons, Waitrose and John Lewis announced they wouldn’t be putting glitter on any of their own-brand Christmas products in a bid to reduce festive plastic pollution.

As part of a nationwide push from retailers to be more environmentally-friendly, last year, the shops’ own-brand products didn't feature the small, shimmery plastics.

No doubt this year, the war on glitter will continue. 

Additional reporting SWNS.

Watch: Will banning glitter save our oceans. 

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