A Welsh university is developing compostable sequins for next summer’s festivals

 A Welsh university is developing compostable sequins for next summer’s festivals

A Welsh University is working with a London designer to develop compostable sequins, which when used on biodegradable fabric, could create clothing that degrades naturally. They’re hoping the sequins will be available long before next summer.

Like glitter, sequins are typically made from plastic coated with aluminium and cause chemical pollution in rivers, lakes and oceans. They can stay in the environment for hundreds of years and often contain toxic and carcinogenic substances.

Rachel Clowes, founder of The Sustainable Sequin Company, is now working with Bangor University’s BioComposites Centre to develop an alternative made from PLA. Also known by the brand name ‘Vegware’, PLA can be composted into agricultural soil in around 12 weeks.

Last month, Boomtown Fair replaced all disposable packaging sold at the event with compostable, ‘Vegware’ alternatives. Clear PLA ‘pint glasses’ used by the festival’s bars look and feel “just like plastic”, but were sent to a local composting facility by organisers and will now be degrading.

Graham Ormondroyd, Head of Materials at Bangor, is collaborating with Rachel on the project. As PLA is made from plants, he said: “When it was first being used, there was a lot of discussion around whether it was taking food away from people, but now you can make PLA from waste products.” – including old bread.

PLA is broken down by microorganisms in the warm environment of a professional composting facility, so the sequins will degrade naturally when required but last much longer in your wardrobe. Graham estimates the sequins could take up to six months to fully break down depending on their thickness and the colourings used.

Rachel and Graham are currently trying to replicate the bright colours and shiny texture of typical sequins, given by their aluminium coating. According to Wired, they’ve been looking at using clay, which won’t biodegrade but occurs naturally in soil and would only leave a coloured residue after composting.

Graham added: “It’s interesting to be resolving a fashion problem for a change, but actually, this is no different to other challenges we have resolved.

“What we’re currently testing is whether the dyes and fillers that provide the colour and iridescence don’t affect the degradation process at the end of use.”

Bangor University
Bangor University

Rachel asked Bangor University’s experts to throw their years of experience behind the challenge. The University’s BioComposites Centre has previously worked on products including compostable pizza bases, recyclable coffee cup lids and grass-based egg boxes. Previous research by Rachel found sequinned clothing is only worn an average of two to three times.

Rachel said: “I’d be so excited to be able to provide the fashion industry with an alternative to single-use plastic sequins. It would be fantastic if the whole industry took notice of what we have produced/are developing and joined us in developing and using renewable sequins.”

The compostable sequins are still in the prototype stage, though Rachel hopes to be supplying them to the fashion industry bt the end of 2019. A simple manufacturing process, where machinery punches sequins from sheets of PLA, means there is potential to scale-up production to the millions and produce a wide variety of shapes.

Rachel previously experimented with sequins that dissolve in boiling water, made from starch, natural dye, water and fruit glycerine. As a first step towards her goal of developing a compostable sequin, Rachel currently sells sequins made from recycled plastic through The Sustainable Sequin Company on Etsy.

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Image credits:
Bangor University (1) – TheFestivals
Woman wearing sequins – Kermen Tutkunova on Unsplash
Purple sequins – Soffie Hicks / ( CC BY 2.0 )
Sequin jacket in festival field – Aranxa Esteve on Unsplash
Bangor University (2) – TheFestivals

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