Elif Bilgin

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Plastic destroys our ecosystem, yet we continue to produce it. It’s as if we are only making life more convenient for the present and not the least bit concerned about our children’s fate, who will literally inherit this planet. It’s easy to ignore it for now, especially if we delude ourselves with hope that someone else will figure out a way to solve our problems. Elif Bilgin, a gifted teen from Istanbul, isn’t too selfish to think only of now – she made bio-plastics out of banana peels.


Why Elif Bilgin is Extraordinary

Elif Bilgin is the 16-year-old inventor of bio-plastics that are made from bananas. She won the “Science in Action” award in 2013, facilitated by Google, and took home 50,000 dollars in prize money. She has inspired people to be more creative when it comes to saving the planet and, as proof of her success, she received Google’s “Inspired Idea Award.”

Using Bananas for Bio-plastics

Plastic has been a source of concern since its mass-production began, making its way onto our appliances, devices, packaging…Name it, it’s got plastic. Indispensable as it may seem, it has an adverse effect on the environment. The manufacturing of plastic is not exactly eco-friendly, and it is made of petroleum that does not decay. It’s funny how a man’s creation can outlive the creator.

But that is how plastic is. Environmentalists are doing all they can to mobilize people into being responsible consumers of plastic; aside form education, there are also organizations that endeavor to clean the waters.

But there are some who need not leave the laboratory to solve the issue. With a little help from modern technology and an abundant supply of creativity (and yes, a considerable tolerance for failure), Elif Bilgin made a breakthrough. Elif is not even of legal age, yet she has discovered a way to help curb our plastic problem.

Banana peels, which we throw away carelessly, can be used as main ingredients to make bio-plastics. Bio-plastics, according to Elif, are now being explored as an alternative to petroleum-based plastic. Since they are made of organic materials, bio-plastics do not exist forever.

What Elif saw that others missed was that a banana peel, essentially waste material, can be put to better use by being recycled and fashioned into bio-plastics. Below is how she did it:

Preparation of banana skins:
1. The peels of the bananas were removed using a stainless steel knife.
2. An 800ml beaker was filled with distilled water and placed over a Bunsen Burner.
3. The banana peels were placed in the beaker and were boiled for 30 minutes.
4. After the boiling process, the beaker was removed from the Bunsen burner and the peels were decantated off the water and placed on and covered with a dry gauze pad, left to dry for 30 minutes.
5. After the peels were dried, they were placed in a clean 800ml beaker.
6. Using a hand blender, the peels were pureed until a fluid paste was formed.

Production of the plastic:
1. 25ml of banana paste was placed in each 50ml beaker.
2. 3ml of HCl was added and the mixture was mixed using a glass stirring rod.
3. 2ml of propan-1, 2, 3-triol was added to each beaker. The mixture was stirred again.
4. 3ml NaOH was added and the mixture was stirred once more.
5. The mixture was poured into a petri dish and put in the oven at 130°C. It was baked for half an hour. (SOURCE: Google Science Fair).

It’s not supposed to be difficult to follow, as her aim is to make plastic a do-it-yourself thing. With such an imagination, Elif would have made Marie Currie proud.

Top Reasons why Elif Bilgin is Extraordinary

  1. She successfully made bio-plastics out of banana peels at the age of 16.
  2. She won Google’s “Science in Action” award and received 50,000 dollars in prize money in 2013.
  3. In addition, she also won Google’s “Inspired Idea Award” that same year.
  4. She was a finalist in the overall Google Science Fair for the 15/16-year-old category.
  5. She learned how to read and write at the age of 4.
  6. She was pulled out of regular school when she was in 4th grade after passing the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - Revised Test (WISC-R).
  7. She is now a student at Koc High School, an institute for gifted young people.
  8. She did not let age prevent her from creating a product which she hopes can help change the world.
  9. She did not give up, even after failing many times.
  10. Since winning, she has been invited to TED and other speaking events to discuss and promote her invention.

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