From the top of Mount Everest to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, plastic continues to pollute a range of environmental niches, and it poses a significant threat to all life forms on Earth. Despite knowing the ecological, eco-toxicological, and economic effects of plastic pollution, we have not been able to ban the use of plastic products. Now, thanks to the invention of a 17-year-old girl, we finally have a much better alternative. This plastic-like material is made from prawn shells, and it decomposes 1.5 million times faster than most of the commercial plastic products we use today.
Angelina Arora, a teenager from Adelaide, was inspired to tackle the plastic waste problem at a young age. After experimenting with different organic materials, she got the idea of using prawn shells.
The Aussie teen first became aware of the impact of plastic waste on the environment when shopping with her mother at the local supermarket. She wondered why her mother had to pay for the plastic carry bags. When asked, the cashier informed her about how plastic hurts the planet and that the additional charge was there to discourage people from using it. This inspired Arora to create a biodegradable alternative that would decompose much faster than conventional plastic.
Arora’s love of science provided her the right tools and understanding, but the journey of inventing “eco-friendly plastic” was not easy. She experimented with a number of organic materials such as cornstarch and banana peels, both of which had to be ruled out because of their solubility. One night, while having dinner, she noticed that the shells of prawns (shrimps) look plasticky. She wondered what caused it and immediately went to the lab to research. Later, she would describe that dinner as her “Eureka” moment.
She extracted the carbohydrate called “chitin” from the shells and used chemical conversion to turn it into chitosan. She then mixed it with an insoluble protein called “fibroin,” which is found in silk cocoons. Using the combination of these two organic materials, Arora created a plastic-like material that breaks down completely within just 33 days. Moreover, this plastic releases nitrogen when decomposing, which is why it can be used as mulch or plant fertilizer.
Arora’s invention has generated quite a buzz, and she has won a number of awards and competitions.
In the 2018 BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards, Arora was awarded the Innovator to Market Award. She also gained international recognition through the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Thousands of brilliant students from over 81 nations participated in the competition, and Arora came in fourth for her innovation. She also won a comprehensive scholarship to one of the best universities in the United States.
Arora is currently trying to figure out the legalities involved in manufacturing her product on a commercial level. Her goal is to rid the oceans of plastic waste. She also wants to inspire and encourage other young people to do their part to make the world a better place.
The 17-year-old, now a student of medicine, is on a quest to remove the usage of conventional plastic. She has produced the final prototype of her product, and it is ready to be manufactured commercially. However, before that happens, she has to do go through legal formalities such as patenting. She is also talking to supermarkets and urging them to use her biodegradable plastic, which is insoluble, durable, and transparent. It can be used for all kinds of packaging, and the manufacturing cost of the product is also lower than most biodegradable products.
An inspiring young woman, Angelina Arora wants to make a difference in the world, and she wants to encourage other young people, especially young women, to follow their passion and make a positive difference however they can.