By Ella Imms
Sydney Morning Herald
Humble Bee, a biotech startup company founded in New Zealand, may be on their way to reducing the use of plastics in a major way.
How? By reverse-engineering the nesting material of the Australian masked bee.
Founder of Humble Bee, Veronica Harwood-Stevenson, began research into this solitary bee’s house-habits after reading about its “cellophane-like” nesting material in a research paper.
The paper also suggested that the material has the potential to be a bioplastic.
From there, Ms. Harwood-Stevenson left New Zealand and headed to Noosa, Queensland, to find more of these “hylaeus” bees.
She met Chris Fuller, founder of Kin Kin Native Bees, who was discovering ways of trapping the bees nest using wooden blocks.
In order to back-up her theories about the bee lining’s plastic-like potential, she used her house deposit and prize money from Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency’s Bright Ideas Challenge to fuel her research.
The findings, as you can imagine, have been very promising. Speaking to Esther Han for The Sydney Morning Herald, Ms Hardwood-Stevenson said her team is “at an early stage, but are working out some manufacturing techniques”.
“It’s about biomimicry, about copying what’s in the natural environment, and we’ve been doing it in design for centuries, from plane wing design inspired by birds of prey to train shapes reflecting bird beaks.”
Humble Bee is now working with Victoria University’s Ferrier-Research Institute to study the bees and has secured $147,000 in the first investment round, which they are hoping to quadruple in the next.
Ms. Harwood-Stevenson not only wants to reduce plastic waste on a global scale – this start-up has big dreams – but also help eradicate toxic chemicals being used in the environment.
“Plastic particles and chemicals have permeated ecosystems and organisms around the world… it’s so pervasive, it’s terrifying,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Their first target will be the outdoor apparel industry which, ironically, widely uses toxic chemicals in products like tents and shoes and basically anything that is waterproof or dirt-repellent.
“Outdoor apparel is definitely what we’re most interested in because of the chemicals being used and because chances are, if you like the environment, you don’t want the products you enjoy to screw up the environment,” Ms. Harwood-Stevenson says.
“We want [the product] to be suitable for a number of large industrial applications, from textiles to healthcare and beyond.”