Sydney: Flexible and sturdy, Angelina’s bio-inspired plastic may soon be sustainable way of using seafood waste for all plastic bags.

Angelina is a budding young scientist who had earlier won first prize in chemistry at the NSW Young Scientist Awards in 2016, for developing a plastic type made out of cornstarch.

Although her first development was too biodegradable – the material would break down as soon as exposed to water – it however, landed her to be introduced to top scientists at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) who were mentoring her through the ‘prawn to plastic’ project.

The amazing bio-plastic has the strength of a prawn shell and the flexibility of a spider’s web, while being completely bio-degradable.
This amazing discovery happened on a regular night, when Angelina was picking up an ordinary dinner from the local Fish and Chips shop. The pile of crab and prawn shells, which was a waste product for the business, set her thinking.

With the kilos of shells that the owner was more than happy to give away, Angelina turned up with a smelly pile at the science lab at her Sydney Girls High School and got experimenting.

That led her to a second prize in Chemistry at Young Scientist Awards STANSW 2017 for developing a strong and biodegradable plastic.

Her experiments are documented in a detailed report, accompanied by pictures of her innovative work and the remarkably malleable and sturdy bioplastic she developed.

The report explains how the versatile protein called chitosan in the prawn shells and sticky protein from the silk of silkworms called fibroin; was used to develop the bio degradable plastic.

The protein in prawn shells is hard yet quite flexible, which Angelina extracted with hydrochloric acid and then combined it with the sticky protein from silk. Angelina explained that the sticky protein is similar to cobwebs of spiders “very sticky and when mixed with chitin, produces a fabric that is flexible yet strong”, she said.

She now hopes that all plastic bags around the world will be “made out of my plastic.”
She is continually encouraged by parents, Nitin and Aashima Arora, who are very proud of Angelina’s achievement. Although Nitin is “unable to even pronounce the proteins” that his daughter has worked with, he looks forward to the time when this bio degradable plastic is mass produced and becomes the solution against the current environmentally-stifling plastic.

Interestingly, a similar project is currently under way in Egypt’s Nile University in which prawn shells are cleaned, dried, chemically treated, ground and dissolved into a solution that dries into thin films of plastic.

“If commercialized, this could really help us decrease our waste. And it could help us improve our food exports because the plastic has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties,” Irene Samy, project moderator, told Reuters. -Vir Rajendra

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