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This teenager made a biodegradable “plastic” out of wasted prawn shells

What were you doing as a teenager? In Australia, a teen by the name of Angelina Arora has created a bioplastic out of discarded prawn shells, a waste product of the fishing industry. Angelina, 17, first came up with the idea to create a plastic alternative a few years ago, when she was just 13.

As she explained in a May 2019 TEDxYouth talk in Sydney, she first experimented by making a bioplastic out of various plant-based materials, such as cornstarch. Unfortunately, her cornstarch plastic was water-soluble, so it wasn’t durable enough to package food — but, more importantly, “we’d be taking away a potential food source by wasting it, which is a massive problem when there’s so much food scarcity around the world,” Angelina said.

One day, Angelina was at a fish and chips shop, and she saw “kilos and kilos” of prawn shells, crab tails, and fish heads, “destined for the bin.” She suddenly noticed the prawn shells resembled plastic — so she collected as many prawn shells as she could, took them to the lab, and started experimenting. 

In her research, she found that prawn shells contain a polysaccharide called chiton, which she was able to extract, convert to chitosan, and combine with fibroin, the silk from which spiders make their webs, to create her biodegradable plastic.

As TruthTheory recently reported, Angelina’s bioplastic now seems to be made with fibroin from silkworm cocoons rather than spider silk. Her bioplastic can break down in 33 days, it releases no toxic chemicals into the environment in the process, and it’s clear, durable, and water-insoluble. Angelina’s invention is not yet on the market, but she is currently working to get it approved for medical applications. Bravo Angelina!

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