What comes to mind before you discard your banana peel? Certainly not the consideration of its use to reduce petroleum-based pollution and create bio-plastic, yet this is exactly what Elif Bilgin, 16, from Istanbul, Turkey, sought to achieve and successfully accomplished. Winner of the 2013 Science in Action award, Google’s third $50,000 annual competition, she addressed the need for environmentally friendly alternatives with practical resources and easy-to-attain banana peels.
A motivated and compassionate scientist, Elif was driven to find an alternative from petroleum produced plastics to benefit the environment. In her journal she mentions that Thailand discards 200 tons of banana peels per day, therefore the starch and cellulose so important for plastic production could be put to much better use. From her research she discovered that potatoes and mango peels are already commonly used, therefore in Koc High School, Turkey, she began experimenting.
Over the period of two years, her trials using banana peels many times ended with disappointment; 10 failed experiments that created plastics not strong enough or too easily decayed did not slow her down, however. Fueled by past scientist’s determination, she wrote “Even Thomas Edison said ‘I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Her persistence resulted in triumph with her last two trials, both creating plastics that had features she sought.
Her efficient method of using banana peels was well documented in her online science entry and easily shows how with little equipment, certain plasticizer ingredients, and starch from the banana peels, it’s possible to create a plastic that retains quality and structure long-term. Elif hopes that the use of bio-plastic will be used to replace some of the petroleum-based plastics in use today for such applications as insulation for electrical cables and for cosmetic prosthesis.
Hoping to attend medical school someday, her future holds many bright achievements to be sure; she’ll continue competing as a finalist in the Google Science Fair for the 15-16-year-old category, and will fly, with 14 other contenders, to the company’s Mountain View campus in California.