The only thing worse than getting a year older on your birthday is opening a card to find someone has hi-lariously pranked you with a mountain of glitter. It’s not only annoying, the stuff is bad for the planet—or at least it was. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have created a non-toxic vegan glitter alternative that ensures those shiny little particles aren’t going anywhere.
We now know that the thousands of tons of microplastics used in products like cosmetics and face-scrubbing soaps are especially bad for the environment, but not before the tiny non-biodegradable particles found their way into our oceans, our national parks, and even plants. It’s a serious pollutant we may never be able to clean up at this point, but we can work toward completely eliminating the production and use of microplastics.
Modern glitter is an absolute nightmare on many levels, and not just because it seems to end up on everything long after someone opened a sparkly birthday card or took their macaroni art to the next level. It’s made from tiny flecks of plastic and aluminum and is not only difficult to assemble, but requires a lot of energy to produce, including a trip through an incredibly hot energy-hungry furnace to make it shiny and reflective.
The obvious and ideal solution would be to ban glitter forever, but now that’s not going to happen thanks to a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge. (Insert a sarcastic “thanks!” here.) In a recently published paper, the team details a new approach to creating glitter-like particles from “colloidal particles of cellulose nanocrystals” which are sourced from the cellulose building blocks of trees, plants, and fruits and vegetables. Instead of using pigments or dyes to generate color, it’s the structure of the nanocrystals themselves that bend and reflect light to produce vibrant and visible shades in a similar technique to how peacock feathers and butterflies produce their vibrant colors.
Even if these non-toxic vegan glitter particles lasted for a billion years, their color would not fade or change, assuming the physics of light in our universe remain the same. But these particles won’t be around that long because they’re completely bio-degradable and will eventually just break down when discarded. This type of glitter is also easier to manufacture, as the researchers have developed a process where a cellulose solution is applied to a thin material that can then be peeled away when it’s completely dry, leaving a film that can be ground up to produce a desired consistency of glitter. One day your anger toward a friend who filled a birthday card with glitter will still be completely justified, but maybe you’ll be slightly less furious—you know, for the environment.