Plastic? Where to start! It’s now the number one form of ocean debris, and muscled its way up the food chain, starting, of course, with hungry microbes. Recent research confirmed that the fish we eat also can’t help but consume plastic. Oh, but there’s good news. On Thursday, Elif Bilgin, a 16-year-old girl from Istanbul, Turkey, won $50,000 at the Google Science Fair for her process of turning banana peels into bio-plastic—a yummier alternative to digesting a product of burned fossil fuels.
Bilgin developed her process over the course of two years, and cites Marie Curie as an inspiration. Currently, she attends a school in Istanbul for gifted children that provides students with the resources to focus on their interests and develop innovations. Bilgin’s dream is to attend medical school at a top university in the U.S. one day and pursue a career in science.
Checking out her application to the Google Science Fair, it is clear that the world needs Bilgin to succeed in this goal:
The method I designed is so simple, it is possible to say that one could actually do it at home (some chemicals used are irritant but not extremely dangerous). This way, anyone could use this plastic. Also, our beautiful planet will be spared from the consequences of the production of plastics with petroleum derivatives in them such as pollution of the air, land and water. In the future, I would like to do more projects concerning the environment. For example, my biggest dream is to build a greenhouse made of waste materials.
A greenhouse made of waste materials? That not only sounds incredibly cool, but extremely lucrative. Such a product would catch on among avid gardeners who likely would prefer to help the earth by buying greenhouses made of repurposed materials. Someone get Bilgin an agent and a Home Depot deal.
Along with her brilliance, she has the perseverance to succeed in a history-making way. Bilgin explored the hypothesis that if mango skins, beloved by bio-plastic researchers for their starch and cellulose, can be turned into plastic, then so can starchy banana peels. After eight failed experiments, Bilgin’s ninth and tenth tries produced plastic. After three days, her initial samples began to decay. On her eleventh try, she dipped the plastic in a solution and, two months later, it still holds. She repeated the experiment and had the same results. And now the world has a new scientist, one who is driven to save the world.
Below is Bilgin’s video application to the Google Science Fair, where she took home the “Science in Action” award. “The award honors a project that can make a practical difference by addressing an environmental, health or resources challenge; it should be innovative, easy to put into action and reproducible in other communities,” according to Scientific American. In addition to the $50,000 prize, Bilgin will receive a year of mentoring to further her research. (Let’s not forget about getting her that agent.)
The question, of course, remains, will the oil-dependent plastic industry make the switch to bio-plastic before it’s too late?