Two students from Sacred Heart school in Greenwich were given an award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for developing an organic fertilizer using orange and banana peels.
When Katherine Siciliano learned that chemical fertilizers were harming water ecosystems, she decided to do something about it.
"We dried the bananas and orange peels in a food dehydrator and then we ground it up and put it in vegetarian biodegradable gel capsules," Siciliano said.
Chemical fertilizers can run-off into water and create algae blooms. Once the algae die, bacteria eats it and sucks up all the oxygen. The lack of oxygen leads to dead zones where nothing can live.
So Siliciliano and her classmate, Madison Miles, learned that orange and banana peels could fertilize the soil without the problem of harming water systems.
There was also another benefit.
"Bananas are also known to purify water, should there be any copper or lead in it," Siciliano said.
She said their experiment showed the peels helped plants grow as fast as plants that were fertilized with a popular commercial product. They named their product Nutrasafe, and it earned them an award from the EPA for, quote, "outstanding contributions to environmental education and stewardship."
Their teacher, Mary Musolino, went with them to Washington, D.C. in August to get the prize.
"We were just so thrilled," she said. "The girls were just so excited. So it was a great moment. This was the first year we entered this competition and to be recognized, you know, the first year, is just amazing."
Madison Miles is now a freshman at Cornell, and Katherine Siciliano is at Boston University. They said they want to offer Nutrasafe for schools to use in gardens, and to help younger students understand why it works.