An Aussie teenager has come up with an innovative solution to plastic waste.
Angelina Arora, 17, has used prawn shells to create plastic that can decompose in landfill over an average of just 33 days.
Her invention has earned her a BHP Science and Engineering Award and last year she was named the Australian Geographic Society’s Young Conservationist of the Year.
Angelina told news.com.au she is now in talks with supermarkets to use her products.
“I’m still finalising the legal aspects like patenting for example, however I am at the stage where I have produced a final prototype and would be ready to manufacture the plastic to distribute it commercially,” she said.
The plastic is not expensive to manufacture, unlike other biodegradable materials, and can be put towards a variety of uses.
“I am currently in talks to companies and manufacturers and the response is looking positive,” she said.
The Adelaide teen said the plastic could be used for all sorts of packaging because it was transparent, flexible, durable and insoluble.
“It could also be used as an agricultural mulch as it releases nitrogen into the soil, which is really beneficial for plant growth, health and immunity,” she said.
Angelina developed the product by mixing an element from prawn shell with a protein from spider web to create a plastic that decomposed 1.5 million times faster than conventional plastics.
The teenager, who is a medicine student, is currently testing the product to see if it could also be used for medical packaging.
The idea for her compostable plastic came one night during dinner.
“I have been experimenting with biodegradable plastics for a while, however, the initial plastics I made out of corn starch were soluble in water and were taking away a potential food source,” she said.
“So I looked at waste alternatives and tried coming up with a banana peel solution – that didn’t work either in regards to solubility.
“I was then having dinner one night after a long, hard day in the lab and noticed prawn shells look like plastic, I thought to myself ‘what makes them look like plastic?’ and then as any scientist does, I went straight to the lab and started researching.
“That was when I realised that that dinner could have been my Eureka moment.”
Angelina was motivated to develop the plastic product because she said she wanted to dedicate her life to making a difference to others, “whether it be conserving our environment for future generations or bettering the health of our society”.
She said developing the plastic wasn’t easy most of the time but it taught her not to see age as a barrier.
This week Angelina is supporting Sustainable Seafood Week to encourage Australians to look for sustainable seafood.
“My generation is finding its voice when it comes to making a difference for the environment,” she said.
“We have been brought up with a greater awareness of our finite natural resources and the impacts of climate change as well as new science.”
A YouGov study commissioned by the Marine Stewardship Council of 1000 young people aged 16-24, found more than 90 per cent were concerned about the impact of climate change on the oceans.
“One-third of the world’s seafood population is in decline, which is an alarming statistic,” MSC oceania program director Anne Gabriel said.
“Seafood is one of the last truly wild food sources we have left on the planet and the next generation will be the people most impacted by its decline, so it’s crucial that we act now and buy sustainable to change the trajectory.”