Can banana peels make plastic?

Elif Bilgin, Istanbul, Turkey, 2013 award winner

Photo of Elif

Elif lives in Istanbul, Turkey, one of the largest cities in the world with around 15 million people. She embraces big city life, loving all of its many facets and has a desire to make changes for the better. She fell in love with science at an early age, finding scientist Marie Curie a huge inspiration and role model.

Because I live in a big city, I face environmental problems like pollution on a daily basis.

The idea

Pollution was greatly affecting Istanbul, with plastic being a huge culprit. While researching solutions she found that bioplastics, a type of biodegradable plastic derived from substances other than petroleum, were already in the works. Because bioplastics are fairly new, this created room for further development.

She had an idea. What if she used organic waste material, like banana peels instead of potatoes?

The test

Turning banana peels into plastic doesn’t sound easy. And it wasn’t. Elif conducted 12 experiments, with the first 10 ending in failures. But that didn’t stop her – her last two tests were a success.

To keep the test fair, she chose similar bananas from the same store. Then she dipped the peels into a sodium metabisulphite solution before boiling, and pureed the peel into a paste. She then transferred the paste to a petri dish to bake.

The best part of the process was the moment when I got my first successful result.

The outcome

Elif’s banana peel plastic proved to be a success. It worked great as a copper wire insulator and even as a cosmetic prosthesis (she used her own thumb as a mold!). By expanding on the work already done with bioplastics, Elif succeeded in creating an easy-to-make, viable plastic material that has the potential to help keep our planet beautiful for generations to come.