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By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Turkish teen Elif Bilgin has thrilled her teachers, parents and those who care about the planet by discovering a way to make bio-plastic from an item commonly found in our waste bins: banana peels.
The 16 year old prodigy always showed promise academically. From the 4th grade, she was put into a school for gifted children, where she was encouraged to develop her already advanced skills and talents. Since then, the teen has excelled at her studies and learned more about climate change and the environment. Somewhat alarmed at what she was discovering, she was determined to find an alternative from petroleum produced plastics.
When Elif found out that potatoes and mango peels are already used to make bio-plastic, that fact, combined with the knowledge that Thailand alone discards 200 tons of banana peels per day motivated Elif to work on extracting the starch and cellulose needed for bio-plastic production out of banana peels.
Elif’s research took a couple of years, and her trials initially failed: the plastics created weren’t strong enough and decayed too quickly. But her persistence paid off, since she obtained the result she was pursuing and this discovery made her win the 2013 Science in Action award, Google’s third $50,000 annual competition. Now she’ll continue competing as a finalist in the Google Science Fair for the 15-16-year-old category, and will travel, along with 14 other contenders, to the company’s Mountain View campus in California.
Bilgin’s documented research can be seen online, where she illustrates how she obtained long-term plasticiser ingredients out of banana peels using very little equipment. She is enthusiastic that her discovery will make a difference to the planet: “The reason why I chose this particular aspect of science is that the bio-plastic is such a new concept and its range of use has been widening ever since it has been discovered (especially in the 21st century). Bio-plastic is a material which has the potential of causing a biological reform by means of reducing the amount of pollution caused by other plastic materials which contain petroleum derivatives,” she says.
The young inventor’s dream is to attend medical school in the US and continue with projects concerning the environment, such as building a greenhouse made of waste materials. No doubt whatever Elif does, future generations will thank her.