Materials

Plant-based biodegradable glitter sparkles without the microplastics

Plant-based biodegradable glit...
Samples of the new biodegradable cellulose glitter
Samples of the new biodegradable cellulose glitter
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Samples of the new biodegradable cellulose glitter
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Samples of the new biodegradable cellulose glitter
A roll of the cellulose film, before it's ground up into glitter
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A roll of the cellulose film, before it's ground up into glitter

Glitter spruces up everything from makeup to craft projects, but one thing it doesn’t improve is the environment. Researchers at Cambridge University have now developed a biodegradable glitter that swaps out the plastic and aluminum for plant-based cellulose, and which can be produced at scale.

Much has been made of the environmental problems of microplastics lately, which are being found everywhere from the Arctic to the Antarctic, the summit of Mt. Everest to the deep seafloor. There, they can take centuries to break down and wreak havoc with the health of wildlife.

Glitter is a major contributor to the problem, which really takes the shine out of your glam eyeshadow. The sparkly stuff may be next on the chopping block as part of wider bans on single-use plastics, and unfortunately, even the so-called “eco-friendly” alternatives aren’t much better, because they often still use coatings of plastic and aluminum to give them their sheen.

The Cambridge team, however, claims to have developed a new type of glitter that’s completely biodegradable. It contains no plastic or aluminum at all, being composed instead of colloidal particles of cellulose nanocrystals, sourced from the cell walls of plants, fruits, vegetables and wood pulp. The glitter gets its characteristic sparkle from the nanoscale structure of its surface, producing iridescent effects similar to those seen in peacock feathers or butterfly wings.

A roll of the cellulose film, before it's ground up into glitter
A roll of the cellulose film, before it's ground up into glitter

The researchers outline how to produce the new glitter at scale too, which they say can be done using existing roll-to-roll infrastructure. A cellulose solution is deposited onto a substrate material, dried out, peeled off as a film, then ground up into particles of the desired size and shape. Not only is the end product better for the environment, but the team says this production method is more energy efficient than making regular glitter.

The team says the glitter alternative could be used in cosmetics, crafts, and essentially anywhere else regular glitter turns up. They even say that it’s safe for use in food and drinks.

After further optimization of the process, the team plans to produce the glitter commercially through a spin-out company within the next few years.

The research was published in the journal Nature Materials.

Source: University of Cambridge

3 comments
3 comments
Daishi
I'm grateful for this overdue backlash against microplastics so we can finally all hate glitter together.
aksdad
Can we just ban all glitter, biodegradable or otherwise? Maybe the U.N. could get on this and do something useful for a change.
ljaques
+1, Daishi and aksdad.