A Better “Root” Taken

By Lynn Chen
Intermediate Category (Grades 9-10)
Innovation | Chemistry, Environment

Our trees are becoming a scarce resource. According to Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) in 2019, only 4 billion hectares of forest remain worldwide. Each year, it is estimated that upwards of 7 billion trees are cut down for commodities like paper. If we continue to remove these natural sources of oxygen at this rate, it will conclude in the abolishment of our planet a lot sooner than we can imagine.

The increasing shortage of trees deemed for paper products has motivated my search for fibrous, raw alternatives to wood. During my research, I discovered that peanut shells share a similar chemical composition to trees–both containing substances such as cellulose and lignin–which prompted me to believe that peanut shells could potentially be a suitable replacement for wood. Furthermore, over 5 million metric tons per year of these shells are produced in China alone. Not only does this process pollute our air, the space in our landfills are becoming smaller. As these shells are meant to be disposed of, I determined that they were considered waste materials with no vital purpose. In addition, I discovered that chemical engineers have been considering peanut shells as an alternative to paper for many decades. However, their trials still incorporated wood fibres and recycled pulp, which didn’t align with my vision for a paper alternative that only required non-essential materials. Due to this, I began carrying out experiments with the hopes of including absolutely no wood and recycled pulp in my paper, which led to peanut shells as the main ingredient–something that has never been done before.

In total, I underwent 10 trials to create waste-based paper that exceeded my expectations. After I was satisfied with the overall product, I tested 5 consumer trials: “Water Resistance”, “Strength and Malleability”, “Reaction to Different Writing Utensils” and “Reaction to Printer Ink”. I then proceeded to analyze and compare these results with Factory-manufactured paper sheets. Finally, I gathered a public response (based upon 3 main age ranges) to get an idea of whether or not consumers would purchase my paper, if it was a product.

With my paper, not only will issues regarding deforestation become resolved, many job opportunities will open for communities around the world. It won’t be necessary to dispose of these shells as conventional waste and problematic materials anymore. The government will save billions of dollars that can go towards more beneficial proceeds, and our Earth will remain intact for generations to come. Unlike the factory-manufactured paper that emits toxic methane gas, rots, and releases Greenhouse Gas emissions that causes climate change–following my process to create this 100%, waste-based paper will definitely be a better route taken…for human kind, for our planet, and every living thing within it.

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