Building the World

WATER: Sparkle Season Innovations


“Menorah” by Nagamani J., 2019. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

T’is the season. Menorah lights glow. Christmas decorations shine. Kwanzaa candles illumine. Festive cards with sparkles greet celebrants who themselves don bedecked apparel. But did you know that glitter and sparkle usually gleam with plastic coatings? Sparkle – greeting cards and packaging, holiday ornaments, festive dresses and party attire – may be made from chemicals that are toxic and largely unregulated. It’s an area of plastic pollution that we rarely consider.

“Christmas baubles.” by KamrynsMom, 2008. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Hang an ornament on a holiday tree – it may glow in the lights but later sprinkle some coating dust. A child may open a card shining with glitter, and later wash their hands before enjoying holiday treats. Sparkle left on little fingertips may wash down the drain and into the water supply. Teens can twirl to holiday party music but their festive attire might shed a sequin or two. Dance floors are swept, and mops are rinsed. Sequins, sparkle, and glitter can flow into the water supply.

“Kwanzaa Candles Kinara” by Nesnad, 2008. Dedicated by the artist to the public domain, creative commons CC0. Included with appreciation.

Fashion is responding. You can now choose innovative festive wear that glows with health for you, the environment, and the water we all share. Deck the halls with algae!

Holiday apparel often features sequins. Now, fashion is responding with non-toxic festive attire. Image: “Bullet points dress.” by photographer Zena assi, 2011. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Some designers and materials engineers are now developing sparkling fabrics formed by algae and wood-based materials that eventually dissolve back into the environment with little disturbance.

Fashion made from bioluminescent nature is an innovation worth supporting. Image: “Mycena chlorophos – bioluminescent mushroom.” by photographer lalalfdfa. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation

London-based Elissa Brunato uses forms of cellulose. In view of the Brooklyn Bridge, Phillip Lim collaborates with Arizona State University’s Charlotte McCurdy to adorn fashion with an algae-based bioplastic film that can be made into sequins. The designers are inspired by shades of green and the process of photosynthesis. These innovative designers include:

Elissa Brunato –

Anuje Farhung –

Sarah Kahn –

Phillip Lim –

Charlotte McCurdy –

One X One –

Scarlett Yang –

Some festive garments may not be the best choice for jumping into a party swimming pool at midnight on New Year’s Eve, even if the sequins harbor no harm. Central Saint Martins graduate Scarlett Yang designed a dress – glowing with algae extract – that decomposes in water.

“Water drop” by José Manuel Suárez, 2008. Creative commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Designboom. “Elissa Brunato makes bio-iridescent sequins from wood as an alternative to plastic.”

Hahn, Jennifer. “Philip Lim and Charlotte McCurdy adorn couture dress with algae sequins to avoid “reaching for polyester.” 22 February 2021. Dezeen.

Hitti, Natasha. “Scarlett Yang designs lab-grown dress from algae that can decompose in hours.” Dezeen. 28 August 2020.

Khadha, Navin Singh. “Five ways sequins add to plastic pollution.” 27 December 2022. BBC.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 U


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