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How Honeybees Inspired This Solution to Food Waste

What's the single biggest use of the world's water? Agriculture. It takes around 700 liters of water to grow a single apple, and a staggering 16,000 liters to make a hamburger. Belgian design students Arne Pauwels and Ellen Van Steen, inspired by the motto "think big, design big," wanted to start to tackle this giant problem.

The designers realized that most of the water used in agriculture is ultimately wasted—because so much food itself is wasted. Around 45 to 50 percent of food is thrown out, not eaten. In countries like the United States, a big part of the waste comes from consumers forgetting to eat food in time. But in other places, like sub-Saharan Africa, much of the food waste occurs right after harvest, because of lack of refrigeration. The designers wanted to help find a solution to help food last long enough to reach people who could eat it.

Their design, the Time Capsule, is a version of an evaporative cooler, a centuries-old device that is commonly used in Africa today. The traditional version has some problems; it uses enormous amounts of water, doesn't work everywhere, and can lead to insect and mold problems.

Evaporative coolers work by raising humidity, and as the designers researched the problem, they learned that honeybees cool their hives using humidity as well: the bees flap their wings to disperse water in the air. Using a similar technique, the Time Capsule has a small fan that blows air over the water to improve its ability to cool air and keep vegetables fresh. Also inspired by the bees' methods of collecting certain pollens to keep pests away from the hive, the designers have used eucalyptus oil to discourage insects from coming in.


This month, we're challenging the GOOD community to host a dinner party and cook a meal that contains fewer ingredients than the number of people on the guest list. Throughout March, we'll share ideas and resources for being more conscious about our food and food systems. Join the conversation at and on Twitter at #chewonit.

Honeybee image via Shutterstock

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