Scientists have developed an environmentally-friendly ‘vegan’ glitter from cellulose – the main building block of cell walls in plants, fruits and vegetables.

The biodegradable glitter, developed at the University of Cambridge, is made from cellulose nanocrystals, which can bend light in such a way to create various vivid colours.

You can use it to make food and beverages more festive by using its plant-based roots. 

The researchers still need to improve the manufacturing process, but they hope to create a spin-off company that will make the glitter available commercially in the next few years. 

Blue and gold 'vegan' glitter prepared from peeled large scale films. The particles are biodegradable, plastic-free and non-toxic

The’vegan glitter’ is made from large-scale films that have been peeled. They are plastic-free, non-toxic and biodegradable.

Close-up of the vegan flakes, which will be available in different colours. It could completely replace regular glitter, which is made from plastic and can poison wildlife

Closeup of vegan flake, available in many colours. This could replace the regular glitter made of plastic, which can be harmful to wildlife. 


Glitter particles make their way into water sources, leading scientists to call a complete ban.

Glitter is small and marine life confuses it as food. This leads to problems in their livers and affects their behavioral functions.

Each tiny, sparkly piece takes thousands of year to degrade.

USA and UK are taking steps to ban glitter by banning cosmetics that contain microbeads. 

It is common to use regular glitter in classrooms, nurseries, and art and craft areas. This also makes it a popular make-up choice for teenagers as well as festival-goers.

It’s also made of tiny plastic pieces, which is just as harmful for the environment and as toxic as microbeads banned in cosmetics.

The tiny glitter particles could make it into the water supply, blocking marine life’s digestive tracts. 

It can also damage the eyes – the British Medical Journal has previously urged doctors to look out for patients complaining of swollen eyes and vision loss after a 49-year-old woman was almost blinded by glitter.  

‘Conventional pigments, like your everyday glitter, are not produced sustainably,’ said Professor Silvia Vignolini from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, senior author of a paper describing the new glitter. 

“They can get in to the soil and the ocean, as well as contribute to pollution.” Glitters are not only fun but can also cause environmental damage.

Glitter is a type of very large pigment, which belongs to a category that is referred to as ‘effect pigment’ in the industry – in essence, a pigment that gives off fancy colours. 

Glitter is typically composed of three layers: a polymer layer, a layer with a thin colour layer, and an aluminum reflective layer. The layers are fused together and then cut into very small shapes.

These pieces cannot be recycled as it is difficult to separate them into smaller parts.  

Jazzle up your beer or champagne with some environmentally-friendly 'vegan' glitter. Researchers are hoping to form a spin-out company to make their glitter commercially available in the coming years

Jazzle up your beer or champagne with some environmentally-friendly ‘vegan’ glitter. The researchers are looking to start a business to commercially make the glitter in the future.

The photograph shows three vials containing the vegan glitter in three different solvents: water, an ethanol-water mixture and ethanol. The particles are the same in the three vials, but the colour difference between the three vials results from the ability of water to swell the structure of the particles

This photograph depicts three vials that contain vegan glitter. The solvents used to make the gel are water, alcohol-water mixture, and ethanol. Although the particles in all three vials are identical, the difference in colour between them is due to the fact that water can swell the particle structure.

Many companies use mica and/or titanium dioxide as effect pigments, when they are not using synthetic polymers. 

Titanium dioxide, however, has been recently banned by the EU in food applications due to its possible cancer-causing properties.

While extraction of mica is often done in developing countries, it can also be used to exploit children’s labour.

‘Traditionally, effect pigment minerals have to be heated at temperatures as high as 800°C [1,472°F] to form pigment particles,’ said study author Benjamin Droguet at Cambridge. 

“When you think about the global production of minerals-effect pigments, you realize that this is a problem for our planet. 

Regular glitter (pictured) is made from tiny pieces of plastic - making it as bad for the environment as the toxic microbeads that have been banned from cosmetics.

Regular glitter (pictured below) is made up of small pieces of plastic. This makes it just as hazardous for the environment than the microbeads which have been removed from cosmetics.

Pictured is the cellulose suspension dried on a £2 coin. It's possible to cast cellulose nanocrystals not only on flat surfaces but also on textured ones

Pictured is the cellulose suspension dried on a £2 coin. You can cast cellulose nanocrystals on both flat and textured surfaces.

To make their vegan substitute, the researchers start with cellulose nanocrystals – unique nanomaterials derived from the most abundant and almost inexhaustible natural polymer, cellulose. 

The light bending properties of cellulose nanocrystals allow for vivid colours to be created. This phenomenon creates some of nature’s most vivid colours, like those found in butterfly wings or peacock feathers.

Researchers found that cellulose nanocrystals emit vivid hues even after centuries.  

They started with a batch of commercially-available cellulose nanocrystals from wood. However, they could also be taken from any kind of agricultural waste containing cellulose. 

Droguet explained to MailOnline that these nanocrystals can self-assemble upon removal of water into structures that reflect light (the color you see). 

“We lay the cellulose liquid substance on a substrate, which is then moved by an industrial-scale machine. Then we let it dry.

“After drying completely, films can be recovered that have a specific colour. The films are then ground into different size particles.  

The photo shows several films of cellulose nanocrystal that has been deposited over a plastic web using a roll-to-roll coating process

This photo depicts several films of cellulose nucrystal that were coated over a poly web by a roll-to–roll process.

The glitter is made from cellulose nanocrystals, which can bend light in such a way 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

It is composed of cellulose nanocrystals that bend light so as to produce vivid colours. This process is called structural color. It is this same phenomenon that creates some of nature’s most vivid colours, including those found in butterfly wings or peacock feathers.

Photo shows a film of cellulose nanocrystal that has been deposited and dried over a plastic web being peeled off and carried for subsequent processing, all usng a roll-to-roll machine

Photograph shows a film made of cellulose nanocrystal. It has been dried and deposited on a web. The plastic is then removed and transported for further processing using a roll to roll machine.

The team prepared films of cellulose nanocrystals using roll-to–roll methods similar to those used for making paper from wood pulp. 

Researchers claim that the whole process uses far less energy than traditional methods and is compatible with industrial-scale machines.

It is possible to use vegan glitter instead of the plastic glitter particles or tiny minerals effect pigments that are commonly used in cosmetics. 

Each year, approximately 5500 tonnes of microplastics are used in Europe by the cosmetics sector. 

‘The technology we developed allows to produce both large coloured particles (that can be used as “your everyday glitter”) and smaller particles that can be used for a glittery effect such as in make-up,’ Droguet told MailOnline. 

‘”Your everyday glitter” is in this context the most well-known effect pigment as it is made of big particles that people see and use for celebratory events. 

‘People are less aware of smaller “effect pigment” particles but the fact is that they encounter them in their daily life without thinking about it. 

“30% of the European car paints have the small effect pigments, which give customers that sparkly look they want.

In the Nature Materials journal, the research further details the vegan glitter. 


A 2018 survey found that nearly 25% of nurseries support banning glitter from schools due to concerns about the impact on marine life.

Most glitters are made from non-degradable plastics  – which make them a environmental hazard, especially to the world’s oceans.

More nurseries support a ban after it became clear that the substances could pose a danger to ecology. 

According to reviews, 52% of respondents voted for banning glitter.

Between January 2018 and March 2018, it interviewed 1,092 nursery workers, managers, and owners.  

At the close of 2017, a debate erupted over the ban on glitter after Tops Day Nurseries declared that they would implement a ban because it worried about environmental damage.  

Cheryl Hadland is the managing director of Tops Day Nurseries which has 19 locations in South England. She said that she was’sad’ rather than’surprised’ at the results and added: “It just shows how important it’s to get the message out to all our sector colleagues.

“I would not have thought the same thing six months ago. 

“I believe when education colleagues, as well as more people, realize the damage we’re doing to our environment with microplastics, one-use plastics, that they will be motivated to take action to help protect this world for future generations.