Is the Australian bee the key to better outdoor gear?

Courtesy of Louise Docker via Flickr
Courtesy of Louise Docker via Flickr

Over the past few years there has been a significant push within the outdoor industry to design products that are better for the environment without sacrificing performance. Some companies, like Columbia Sportswear and Jack Wolfskin, have taken to using recycled fabrics, while also looking for ways to reduce the amount of water consumed during production. Others — such as Fjällräven — are focusing on removing harmful chemicals like fluorocarbons from their fibers too. But soon, a company called Humble Bee might show these gear manufacturers a completely new way to approach the challenges the come with protecting nature, by actually finding ways to mimic it instead.

Humble Bee is a New Zealand-based biotech startup that is focused on studying the habits of the Australian bee in an effort to find ways of improving the products we use while also eliminating our reliance on plastics and harmful chemicals. While versatile, cheap to produce, and durable, these martial can take thousands of years to decompose, leaving a long and lasting impact on the environment. Instead, the company is looking to nature to provide us with viable options that can offer the same level of performance we’ve come to expect from plastics, but in a form that is biodegradable and less destructive to the environment.

The Australian bee has been of particular interest to Humble Bee because it creates a nesting material that resembles a type of naturally occurring plastic in many ways. This “bioplastic” is not only waterproof, but it is also resistant to heat — including flames — and can repel most chemicals, too. If a method for mass producing the substance could be found, it might serve as a true replacement for a variety of types of plastics, including those used to create outdoor gear. The fibers could be used to create a waterproof jacket or build a better tent.

Veronica Harwood-Stevenson, the founder of Humble Bee, won the Bright Ideas Challenge sponsored by the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency and immediately invested the prize money into researching her idea. Her work showed that there is a great deal of promise in mimicking the materials created by the Australian bee, although the next challenge involves finding ways to mass-produce it on a scale large enough to have an impact on the outdoor industry.

“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 be screwing up the environment,” Harwood-Stevenson told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Chemicals are often added to outdoor gear products to add a waterproof or dirt-resistant finish. Being able to re-create the bee’s natural fibers could eliminate the need for those chemicals, while also creating a material that is much more biodegradable at the same time. That solves a host of challenges that gear manufacturers face when creating more environmentally friendly products. Humble Bee still has some challenges to overcome before that can happen, but it is making progress toward those goals.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

A hive of activity: Using honeybees to measure urban pollution

According to a new study from Vancouver, bees could help us understand urban pollution. Scientists have found an innovative way to measure the level of source of pollution in urban environments: by analyzing honey.
Smart Home

These best outdoor security cameras will keep porch pirates at bay

Worried about porch pirates stealing your packages, or intruders entering your home? Always be in the know about who or what is on your property by installing one of these outdoor security cameras.
Product Review

The Division 2 brings the most fun we've ever had to Washington, D.C.

After 55 hours with The Division 2, it’s clear that Ubisoft has improved on the original in almost every way. The world is richly detailed, the story missions are wonderful, gunplay and enemy design are great, and the endgame content is…
Home Theater

Get loud with the best outdoor speakers to rock your party in any weather

From rugged, solar-powered backwoods listening companions to floating pool party jam boxes, the best outdoor speakers partner with your lifestyle to let you listen to your favorite tunes wherever you go.

App schools fishing fans on the best time and place to hook that dream catch

Fishbrain, a fishing social network and forecasting app, has introduced BiteTime, a new feature that takes the guesswork out of when and where you are most likely to catch a certain species of fish.

Hyperlite’s new 2-person tent weighs slightly more than two bags of marshmallows

Hyperlite Mountain Gear took the wraps off its new ultralight Dirigo 2 tent. Weighing only 28 ounces, the Dirigo 2 is the company's first self-contained, three-season, two-person shelter.

REI cuts prices on Osprey, Patagonia, and The North Face backpacks

Whether you're hiking, camping, or traveling, you're always going to need a decent bag to carry your things in. And with REI's Outlet sale going on right now, it's is a perfect time to pick one up for cheap.

The best budget-friendly GoPro alternatives that won’t leave you broke

Cold weather is here, and a good action camera is the perfect way to record all your adventures. You don't need to shell out the big bucks for a GoPro: Check out these great GoPro alternatives, including some 4K cameras, that won’t leave…

Yamaha’s Wabash ebike takes on gravel, single track, and more

The Wabash gravel ebike from Yamaha gives riders a versatile and powerful option for riding trails, pavement, mud, sand, dirt, and more, with plenty of range and power for all-day adventures.
Health & Fitness

Under Armour HOVR is more than a running shoe, it’s a fitness tracker

Under Armour HOVR running shoes bring more to the table than just a comfortable fit. With UA's Record Sensor technology, you can track distance, duration, and even the path you take as you run.

Trek’s new bike helmet is 48 times safer than the one you’re wearing

Trek and Bontrager have taken the wraps off of a new cycling helmet that uses WaveCel technology to dramatically reduce head injuries by dispersing the impact in a way that is 48 times safer than current helmets.

Under Armour cuts prices on waterproof backpacks with this outlet sale

Under Armour built its name on athletic clothing, but this maker also offers great bags and backpacks for everyday use. If you're looking for a waterproof backpack to keep your stuff out of the rain, Under Armour’s ongoing sale might have…

A $20 lifetime REI Membership gets you exclusive deals, money back, and more

REI is a great one-stop shop for everything related to the great outdoors, but REI member rewards can give you even more. For just $20 for a lifetime membership, you can get access to exclusive sales, members-only deals, REI Adventure…