The UK-based company Sparxell, a pigment developer, has completed a $3.2 million funding round to produce plant-based pigments. A group of fellow Cambridge scientists which include Dr Benjamin Droguet and Professor Silvia Vignolini founded the company in 2022 to address the issue that many pigments used in fashion, packaging, crafts, food, beverage, and paint are damaging the environment. To make its pigments, Sparxell extracts plant-based, renewable, and biodegradable cellulose from waste streams, and the company claims that model studies have confirmed that its “plastic-free and toxin-free pigments” have “some of the lowest impacts on flora and fauna at the end of life.”

Dr Benjamin Droguet, Sparxall founder and CEO, said in a press release published by BusinessWire, “Traditional chemical colourants are causing major environmental harm through every stage of their lifecycle, from manufacture to degradation. Over 10,000 fossil-based chemicals are used in current colouration processes. The textile industry is a well-known emitter of dyes and microplastics, with over 1.5m tonnes entering the environment every year, while paint has recently been recognised as the largest source of microplastics in the ocean. Our plant-based materials can be grown and sourced locally in a complete rethink of how colours are currently being manufactured while reducing transport emissions.” 

The study Droguet refers to was published in 2022 by the Swiss scientific research firm Environmental Action (EA) and found that of the tens of millions of tonnes of microplastics leaked into the ocean each year, about 58% comes from paints.

These new vegan-friendly pigments could now replace carmine, a red or purplish-red pigment obtained from cochineal, a red dyestuff extracted from the dried bodies of female beetles of the species Dactylopius coccus, native to tropical and subtropical America. Traditionally, cochineal was used for colouring fabrics by the Aztec and Maya peoples of North and Central America as early as the second century BCE, but it is still used today. Vegans avoid any product coloured with carmine, as they consider that  all insects are sentient beings

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.