Plastic glitter has been a fun way to add an extra bit of dazzle to decorations for centuries, but the modern methods for making it have polluted rivers and oceans and put marine wildlife at risk.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way to make glitter from the main building block of plants, fruits, vegetables and wood pulp – cellulose.
The cosmetics industry uses about 6,000 tons of microplastics every year to create plastic glitter particles and tiny mineral effect pigments that are included in cosmetics and other products.
Those microplastics pass through natural and manmade filtration systems and end up in the ocean and Great Lakes, blocking the digestive tracts of aquatics creatures, diminishing their urge to eat and altering feeding behavior and reproductive output.
In a new study, the British researchers said they have found a way to make sustainable, non-toxic, vegan and biodegradable glitter that is just as sparkly as the plastic kind.
The team creates a large-scale cellulose film using physical-chemical interactions, then grinds the film into tiny, glitter-sized particles.
“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 meters, so that we can produce these materials at scale,” said study first author Benjamin Droguet, early stage researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry.
The team said the new process is much less energy intensive than current glitter manufacturing procedures.
“We believe this product could revolutionize the cosmetics industry by providing a fully sustainable, biodegradable and vegan pigment and glitter,” said Silvia Vignolini, the paper’s senior author and professor of chemistry and bio-materials at the University of Cambridge.