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Holladay Journal

Got food waste? Fox Hills Elementary student can turn it into biodegradable plastic

May 29, 2022 01:34PM ● By Liz Craker

By Liz Craker | [email protected]

Crystal Mirci, a fifth grade Fox Hills Elementary student, recently won the University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair for the state of Utah by making biodegradable plastics from food waste. She received the highest points possible and also received the TD Williamson Outstanding Young Scientist Award. 

The University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair is an annual science & engineering competition for students in grades 5-12. Students from the Canyons, Granite, Murray, Park City, Salt Lake, South Summit and Tooele School Districts as well as the Salt Lake Catholic Diocese and all private, home school and charter schools within these boundaries participate in the competition.

Crystal’s father, Curtis Mirci, said that Crystal decided to make biodegradable plastics from food waste when she noticed in the news stories about animals dying from plastic exposure and the microplastics that are in people’s bodies. “She saw that students at school often threw away leftover food and plastic after lunch, and that gave her the idea as well,” he said.

Crystal used five different types of fruit as well as vegetables, soy milk, regular milk and egg shells and a recipe from the internet to create the biodegradable plastics. She explained that she dehydrated the food, ground the dehydrated product into powder, then heated it and put it into molds to dry. She said that all of the food in the project was expired, and she changed the recipes to improve the results. Crystal was also able to extract protein from dairy products by mixing it with vinegar to make additional biodegradable plastics.

“I was curious if it would actually work or not, but it worked great. She even got the soy-based biodegradable plastics to get as strong as the regular plastic,” her father added.

He explained that she tested the strength of each produced item by exposing them to various temperatures as well as water. “The heated products became multiple times more durable,” he said.

Due to COVID restrictions parents were not allowed at the March 9 event, but the students were able to present their own projects to the judges. Crystal’s awards were delivered to the school in April. She received a plaque for the TD Williamson award and a trophy for the points award. “I was very impressed with her and proud of her. With all the work she put into the unique concept, I thought she would win something,” her father added.

“I would like to do more science fairs in the future,” Crystal said. She explained that she would like to test the durability of other bio- based plastics to build on this year’s project for an additional science fair project.

“I was really happy. I didn’t think I would actually win against so many kids. I was really proud of my work,” she said.

Crystal skipped kindergarten so she is a year ahead in school, and after taking math assessments for sixth grade, she was placed in ninth grade math for next year. She composes music, is bilingual in English and Japanese, and even has her own piano YouTube channel.

Other local students who won awards are:

Wasatch Junior High: Andrew Jiao, third place; Solomon Kim, third place; Ethan Tao & Justin Tao, fourth place; Noah Mascaro, honorable mention

McMillan Elementary: Charlotte Jacobsen, fourth place

Morningside Elementary:  Samuel Wojnowski, second place; Rylee Burtch, honorable mention; Griffin Jeppsen, honorable mention

American Preparatory Academy: Daniel Carrasco, first place; Kohen Gongaware, honorable mention

Granite Elementary: Liam Linton, honorable mention

Churchill Junior High: Janie Curtis, honorable mention

West Valley Elementary: Ryder Paea, first place; David Sackett, second place; Emeline Baran, fourth place

Diamond Ridge Elementary: Kyler Johnson, third place

Wasatch Elementary: Hannah Galian, Chloe Crumley, and Josie Flickinger, second place

Oakridge Elementary: Brynnli Roberts, honorable mention

Sterling Elementary: Ezra Peterson, fourth place

Longview Elementary: Noelle Thackeray, honorable mention

Wright Elementary: Lillie Kennedy, honorable mention; Conner Wilson, honorable mention

Cottonwood Elementary: Caleb Soukup, second place

Copper Hills Elementary: Delilah Knight, first place; Jacob Houston, first place

Viewmont Elementary: Sean “Preston” Marshall, third place