Turkish Teen Makes Plastic Out of Banana Peels

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?

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • There are 2 different approaches to governing free speech on college campuses.
  • One is a morality/order approach. The other is a bottom-up approach.
  • Emily Chamlee-Wright says there are many benefits to having no one central authority on what is appropriate speech.

Is there an optimal time of day to exercise?

Two new studies say yes. Unfortunately, each claims a different time.

Bronx, N.Y.: NYPD officer Julissa Camacho works out at the 44th precinct gym in the Bronx, New York on April 3, 2019. (Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday via Getty Images)
Surprising Science
  • Research at the Weizmann Institute of Sciences declares evening to be the best time for an exercise session.
  • Not so fast, says a new study at UC Irvine, which replies that late morning is the optimal workout time.
  • Both studies involved mice on treadmills and measured different markers to produce their results.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett breaks down what qualities will inspire others to believe in you.
  • Here's how 300 leaders and 4,000 mid-level managers described someone with executive presence.
  • Get more deep insights like these to power your career forward. Join Big Think Edge.