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Summerside student comes up with a solution to curb the plastic plague

Jessie Colussi-Kenny makes 50 bioplastic films from the natural resource of agar.
Jessie Colussi-Kenny makes 50 bioplastic films from the natural resource of agar. - Submitted photo

Science prodigy Jessie Colussi-Kenny uses algae to create a biodegradable plastic

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - As the ice breaks and the peaceful cadence of crashing waves return to the beaches surrounding P.E.I. it’s all too easy to forget the buzz-killing reality that debris may be floating through the waters, leaving marine destruction in its wake, and most of this is the result of plastic.

Plastic is a non-biodegradable worldwide problem, but a science prodigy from Three Oaks Senior High in Summerside may have come up with a sustainable solution that will curb the plastic plague.

“The plastic I made with my mentor Dr. Marya Ahmed is not plastic that can be compared to commercial plastic, but it’s a start,” said Jessie Colussi-Kenny, 17, who has created a bioplastic with her mentor from the Faculty of Science at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Using the natural resource of algae or specifically agar, which can be found in both freshwater and saltwater, Colussi-Kenny developed a new type of plastic that can decompose.

“I was researching for a project last year and found that there was a girl making plastic from bananas, so I wanted to see what else could be used to create a biodegradable plastic,” she said.

The research project was submitted for Sanofi Biogenius Canada, which fosters talent and challenges high school students to carry out ground-breaking research projects in the field of biotechnology.

Four students from P.E.I. participated in the competition that took place on Monday, April 9 in Halifax.

“She (Ahmed) helped me develop the experiment, as well as provide the research in the form of chemicals for the project undertaken at the university. The chemical combination we found most effective were glycerol, agar and cinnamic acid.”

Colussi-Kenny continued, “The final plastic was bumpy, but it was also flexible and strong, and absorbed less water.”

Plastic made from agar is not only environmentally friendly, but less expensive than other alternatives such as making plastic from bananas.

“Plastic made from agar can biodegrade making it a better alternative to petroleum-based plastic. If plastic was made from renewable organic materials like algae, lactic acid or other materials, the world would not be as polluted with oil-based plastic, making our oceans clearer and our landfills less overcrowded,” she said.

Although Colussi-Kenny did not make it to the regionals with the competition in Halifax, she is still determined to continue her mission to make the world go green.

“I want to go into chemical engineering and start a company that either makes plastics that can be commercialized or try to make an algae bio-industry and solve them into being profitable,” she concluded.

For more information about the competition visit, biogenius.ca.

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