Bioplastic from Banana Peels – Designed by 16-year-old Girl to Reduce Environmental Pollution

Pollution from plastics is one of the most serious forms of environmental destruction. From large plastic debris to miniscule polymers, plastic is destroying the planet and creating disaster zones for people and animals. Although much irreversible damage has already been done, Elif Bilgin a 16-year-old science student from Istanbul, Turkey has developed a simple method of converting organic banana peels into useable “plastic”. If widely implemented, Bilgin’s design has the ability to reduce or even eliminate reliance on conventional plastics and create a more sustainable future.

So why are plastics so detrimental to the environment? Aside from being widely over consumed, the biggest problem is that plastic is non-biodegradable. This means that there is no natural process that can break it down into organic material. Thus, the same durability, which accounts for the usefulness of plastic, is what makes it so detrimental to the natural environment. While plastic cannot biodegrade, it does photodegrade. Photodegradation is the process of the plastic fragmenting into increasingly smaller pieces without any alteration of its chemical compounds into a simpler form. These fragmented plastic particles are known as “nurdles” or “mermaid tears” (Silverman, 2007).

Not only to does the microscopic size of nurdles make for an extremely difficult clean up process, they are also tremendously harmful to ecosystems. Nurdles are accidentally ingested by animals and lead to poisoning and deadly intestinal blockages. Furthermore, these particles possess the insidious property of attracting and absorbing toxic chemicals. This means that in time, widely diffused poisons become highly concentrated in plastic polluted environments (Silverman, 2007).

Possibly the most severe form of environmental degradation from plastic can be found in marine environments. The Pacific Garbage Patch, also referred to as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a vast ranging and constantly fluctuating area where trapped pelagic plastics and other man-made debris circulates the North Pacific Gyre (Wiki: Pacific Garbage Patch).

This marine injustice has often been misrepresented by the media and discredited by certain researchers because it can rarely be seen through satellite imaging. This is because, contrary to common belief, the patch is comprised of tiny pelagic plastics, sludge from chemical spills, dumping and run-off as well as other pieces of microscopic to large size debris. As these suspended particles become trapped in the upper water column, the plastic proceeds to break down into even smaller particles called polymers, which alter the integrity of marine food chains (Wiki: Pacific Garbage Patch).

Although they remain predominantly unadvertised, there are also plastic garbage patches in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The Northern Atlantic Gyre traps garbage and waste particles where its four major currents (North Equatorial, Gulf Stream, North Atlantic and Canary) intersect. The debris concentrations in the northern Atlantic are an alarming matter, however, there has been little documented research conducted. Certain sea associations are working in the Atlantic and Caribbean; however, it is insufficient to even begin solving the problem of plastic ocean debris (NOOA, 2012).

The marine debris in the North Atlantic subtropical convergence zone leads to the ingestion of petroleum based products by a variety of Atlantic sea turtle species and seabirds. The effect of garbage patches on wildlife can be devastating. If the Atlantic garbage patch continues to grow, it will not be long until we receive shocking reports such as those of the South Pacific (Law et al). For example, out of the 1.5 million remaining Laysan Albatrosses in the South Pacific, almost all have been found to have a substantial amount of plastic clogging their digestive systems. One-third of albatross chicks currently die due to being regurgitated plastic by their parents (Wiki: Pacific Garbage Patch).

Environmental injustice at its finest: Human consumption has damaged ocean habitats so drastically that a creature, after soaring the seas for over six months, returns to a specific breeding ground in attempt to reunite with its lifelong mate and lay one egg, which can take over a year to hatch, has been denied the ability to feed their chick anything but plastic and human by-products (BBC Galapagos, 2006). As a result, 19 of the 21 species of albatross are faced with extinction (Wiki. Albatross).

The destruction of the ecological food chain is not restricted to the Albatross. Atlantic as well as Pacific jellyfish feed on plastic containing toxins. These jellyfish are consumed by larger fish, which are consumed by people. Aside from the many toxic effects, when petroleum products are ingested the endocrine system (the gland system that secretes various hormones to the bloodstream) mistakes them as estradiol (a sex hormone) causing disruption to the person, or animal’s reproductive system (Wiki: Pacific Garbage Patch). Furthermore, marine plastics facilitate invasive species to spread long distances aboard floating debris and colonize ecosystems in distant regions, thus, wiping out native species among which we rely.

Unfortunately, due to the nomadic nature of man-made ocean particles, the feasibility of a debris cleanup in oceans is low. Large-scale investment would have to be made to deal with this tremendous challenge (NOAA, 2012).

Although international governments are not rushing to collaborate on methods to clean up the world’s garbage patches, one young scientist is working on a solution to eliminate the use of petroleum-based plastics. Elif Bilgin of Istanbul, Turkey was recently awarded the 2013 Science Action Award. This $50,000 prize is awarded each year at the Google Science Fair and sponsored by Scientific American. The award was created to honour an innovative and easily reproducible project, which addresses an environmental challenge in a practical way (DiChristina, 2013).

After a two-year research and trail process, and many failed attempts, Bilgin successfully developed a method of creating bioplastic out of scrap banana peels. The young scientist was not discouraged by the lengthly process and quoted Thomas Edison by saying in her project description “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”(DiChristina, 2013).

Through her research, Bilgin found that cellulose and starches are found in other starchy crops, such as potatoes and mango skin and that these are already being used in the bioplastic industry. She therefore assumed that as bananas are also high in starch, they too could be converted to bioplastic. She looks forward to her research being used to replace petroleum-based plastics with biodegradable ones – creating a cleaner and healthier environment (DiChristina, 2013).

By Bonnie Lewtas

August, 2014

Works Cited:

BBC Documentary Galapagos (2006). The Islands that Changed the Earth.

DiChristina, M. (2013). Girl Makes Bioplastic From Discarded Banana Peels. Retrieved August 21, 2014, from

Law, K, et Al. (2010). Plastic Accumulation in the North Atlantic Subtopical Gyre. Science Express. 19 August 2010 issue.

NOAA Marine Debris Program. (July, 2012 ). De-mystifying the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. In Marine Debris. Retrieved August 21, 2014, from

Silverman, J. (2007) “Why is the world’s biggest landfill in the Pacific Ocean?” Retrieved August 21, 2014, from

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (Unknown). Albatross. Retrieved August 21, 2014, from

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (Unknown). Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Retrieved August 21. 2014, from

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