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‘Prawn Bioplastic’…..Sydney Teenager Wins 2019 Australian Geographic Society’s Young Conservationist of the Year Award.

photo by LOUISE KENNERLEY courtesy of Australian Geographic

Angelina Arora has won the 2019 Australian Geographic Society’s Conservationist of the year award and she’s also a 2019 NSW Young Australian of the Year Nominee.  

At 16 years old, Angelina is doing her very best to tackle the problem of single-use plastics.  She’s creating a new bioplastic from prawn shells, showcased at the prestigious 2018 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.  She encourages young women to pursue a STEM career ( a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine – the careers that will be in demand in the future). She has been acknowledged for her passion and leadership, Angelina believes her generation will make a difference and so do we.

But you really can make a difference, and each and every one of us. If you have a dream and a passion, if you follow it on and see it through, I really do believe that everyone in our generation can make a difference

Angelina Arora

At school, in Year 9, Angelina was given a science project. She has said to AAP, “I didn’t want to just do a project, I wanted to do something more meaningful and something where I could actually make a difference to the world.” She decided to look into bioplastics, which are plastic materials made from renewable sources.  While eating out one night, Angelina looked at a prawn, and then its shell and then saw the base material she needed for a biodegradable plastic lying in that crustacean’s shell.

Angelina Arora is the creator of a new toxin-free plastic, made completely out of waste, that decomposes 1.5 million times faster than conventional plastics. Angelina now empowers young people to follow their passions as she believes her generation is the one that will make a difference. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. 

She decided to extract a carbohydrate from the shells and was able to create a plastic which decomposes much quicker than regular plastic.

Prawn shells consist of a hard, yet flexible protein called chitosan, a version of chitin — the second most abundant organic material on the planet, that is found in fungal cells, insect exoskeletons, spider webs and crustacean shells. 

Prawn shells consist of a hard, yet flexible protein called chitosan, a version of chitin — the second most abundant organic material on the planet, that is found in fungal cells, insect exoskeletons, spider webs and crustacean shells. With help from her mentors’ guidance and a litre of hydrochloric acid, Angelina managed to extract this versatile protein from the prawn shells and combined it with fibroin, an extremely sticky protein that she extracted from the silk of silkworms.

“It is the same protein that spiders use to make webs. It’s very sticky. When you mix it with chitin, it produces a fabric that is flexible, strong and exhibits all the properties you want in plastic. In short, the final material has the strength of a prawn’s shell and the flexibility of a spider’s web. The plastic also degrades completely with nothing harmful left behind”, Angelina explained to The Sydney Morning Herald, adding that while the shells needed a lot of preparation before being used, it was a lot less than what conventional plastics needed.

“I found that the plastic I produced broke down in just 33 days which is 1.5 million times faster than conventional plastics and also released nitrogens into soil which is so good for plant growth and health,” Angelina said.

She continues her mission after having graduated Sydney Girls High School, Angelina is now in the process of protecting her design with patents and is also doing research into the effect of algae as a remedy for oil spills.

Companies and manufacturers from all over the globe, including Vietnam, India and the Netherlands have contacted Angelina to express interest producing the bioplastic.

Angelina will continue her research work and as a prospective university student, she’ll combine medicine and sustainability in her tertiary studies.

Angelina is a wonderful example to other young people, and she has an important message to deliver.  Not only confining her time to scientific pursuits, Angelina also does charity work nationally and overseas. As a result, she was acknowledged for leadership in social justice by the Hon Dame Marie Bashir Peace Prize, and was named Young Citizen of the Year 2019, Channel 7’s Young Achiever of the Year Award Winner and Green Globe Winner. Pretty impressive for a 16-year-old!

“We have a tendency to think, ’Oh, I’m so young, I’m just one person, what can I do?’,” she said.

“But you really can make a difference, and each and every one of us. If you have a dream and a passion, if you follow it on and see it through, I really do believe that everyone in our generation can make a difference.”

“The world that we are going to be living in, in the future and our children, our grandchildren, will be living with the consequences of our actions.

“Increasingly there has been more awareness, like with school climate strikes and everything, I think our generation is doing a good job at being aware and reducing their environmental impact.

“But I think because it is going to be affecting us and our future generations, I think that’s why young people should be very concerned about the environment.”