I love a good story about creative uses for food waste, and when the story involves a teen using food waste to fight the effects of drought on crops in South Africa, I get giddy.
I was all smiles this morning reading about Kiara Nirghin, a 16-year-old from Johannesburg, South Africa, who won the grand prize at the 2016 Google Science Fairfor coming up with a way to use orange peels and avocado skins to help retain water in soil. South Africa is in the worst drought in more than 20 years. The teen believes “a critical solution to long-term water needs is a special material that can hold hundreds of times its weight in water while stored within soil.”
She came up with her mixture to replace current soil additives, which are man-made and filled with harmful chemicals. These non-biodegradable solutions, known as superabsorbent polymers or SAPs, are macromolecules that absorb water and release it slowly to the surrounding soil. They work, but they’re out of reach financially for local farmers. In contrast, Kiara’s solution is biodegradable and affordable. You can learn more about the project in the video below:
In her “about me” section on Google’s science fair site, Kiara says she loves “the captivating subjects of chemistry and physics in school.” She also believes “that food and chemistry are undoubtedly linked in the intertwined science web. I love molecular gastronomy and the application of scientific principles in food creation.”
This molecular gastronomy/chemistry/physics-loving girl used waste products found in the juice manufacturing industry to create her orange peel mixture, which can absorb 76.1 percent of water, an amount she says is “significantly greater” the absorption of acrylic SAPs, starch SAPs and pectin SAPs. Additionally, the current commercial SAP costs about $2,000 to $3,000 per metric ton. Kiara says her mixture can retail for $30 to $60 per metric ton.
She thinks her concoction could increase food security by 73 percent in drought disaster areas.
That’s a brilliant use of food scraps, created by a brilliant and inquisitive young mind.