Young innovators

Rural youth on course to entrepreneurship

Sunday, October 30, 2011

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ONLY a year ago, five rural youths got together for a project that would put them in contention for an award at the annual Jamaica Public Service (JPS) Science and Technology Expo. In the process, they made a discovery — fish scales can be used to make plastic.
Once they had taken the decision to participate in the expo, the youths — Doran Brown, Oraine Campbell, Raje Fagan, Demari Brown, all 19, and Jevon Givans, 18 — were determined to come up with something that was not only new but also environmentally friendly.
The boys — who were friends and students of Spauldings High School in Clarendon where they were all a part of the lower-sixth form environmental studies class — settled on using fish scale as the material for whatever creation they would come up with.
And why not? It is a natural product that is readily available in their local fish markets and which decorates beaches, such as Alligator Pond.
They then set about researching the properties of fish scale to see what, if anything, could be done with it and discovered it contained a substance called collagen — a sticky kind of protein. The group, led primarily by Oraine, surmised that if this substance could be extracted, they could use it to make some type of glue.
And that they did, experimenting until finally they realised their objective. They made the glue on a Friday and left some of the collagen extract behind in the school lab. When they returned to the lab the following Monday, they found it had morphed into plastic.
Doran, who operates as the spokesperson for the group, describes the plastic they have come up with as being very environmentally friendly. Not only does it dissolve easily in water, it also produces very little smoke when burnt.
“Therefore, this plastic would significantly reduce pollution and promote sustainable development of the environment,” Doran, now a biology student at Northern Caribbean University, told Career & Education.
Demari is now at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE) while the other three youths are in upper-sixth form at Spauldings High.
Meanwhile, Doran noted that if they make wrappers for candy, for example, it would not become problematic for the school environment if children litter as it will degrade after a period of time.
“Plus, the (degraded material) will go back to the soil to provide soil fertility and better soil structure,” he added.
The young men are now intent on making a business of their innovation. They want to use plastic to make party plates, cups, and even accessories such as earrings.
Apart from the plastic and the glue which they say is very effective and can be used on furniture and other wood products as well as for office use, they have also made fertiliser from the fish scales.
They claim that compared to other fertilisers, theirs grows plants faster.
“Other fertilisers combine the soil together, this type of fertiliser makes the soil compact and I think farmers should resort to this type of fish scale, which has no side effect on the environment,” Doran said.
With these ideas, the group placed second in the JPS Science and Technology expo, receiving awards for having the most innovative display, the top tertiary display and for having the best overall display.
“We expect this to take us global because we could open a business out of it, and even attract tourist and other foreign investors to invest in using biodegradable products as a means of reducing pollution at a significant rate,” Doran said.
The group revealed that while at school, the expenses of the project were taken care of but now that they are branching out on their own, they are in need of support. They are currently trying to promote the idea and seeking sponsorship.
“I can guarantee that if we are making absolute biodegradable plastic on a large scale, that will certainly attract foreign countries to come and buy this to see how they can reduce pollution,” Brown said.
They think it could also influence people to use waste material — a way, they believe, to solve many environmental problems.
The group believes that Jamaica is currently importing too many products from other countries.
“So what if we can develop our own now? This is the sort of business we need to resort to in this time to spur economic growth,” Doran insisted.
They are currently in the process of securing a patent for their product through the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office.

    
   

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