My son turns four this Sunday! I’ve now parented for as long as I was in college, which feels bizarre to write. I also think that fact is the only thing in common between these two chapters of my life. Wait, that’s not true – frequently being awake at 2am is another one.In these past four years, I’ve seen just about all the stuff that’s out there for kids. We’ve gone through the pacifiers and the swaddles, the burp clothes and the baby spoons, the walkers and the bouncers, the tear-free shampoos and the silly soaps. Then there’s the toys. ALL OF THE TOYS.
What I’ve noticed is that a lot of baby stuff sold on the market is really just a simple design to fix a specific problem. Want your kid to be able to find their pacifier in the middle of the night? Then get one that’s stitched to a stuffed animal! Tired of baby food dribbling down a bib and onto their clothes? Just find a bib with a pouch at the bottom! Worried your kid will roll off the bed when they graduate from the crib? Get a foam wedge that goes under the sheet to serve as a guard rail!
When trying to solve a very specific and narrow problem, the simpler the fix the better. That goes for everything, not just baby stuff. Heck, people have even developed a term for super-simple fixes – life hacks. Side note, if you’ve never browsed a list of life hacks, it’s quite entertaining (here’s a good list of 100 for you).
I recently learned about a startup company with an elegantly simple fix to a very specific problem, and if they succeed in scaling up, they could have tremendously positive environmental and social impacts. The problem is food spoilage, and the company is Apeel Sciences. These folks have developed a liquid solution into which fruits and vegetables can be dipped at a packaging facility. When the solution dries on the produce, it forms an edible, colorless, oderless, and tasteless barrier that keeps oxygen out and keeps water in, prolonging the shelf life of the produce.
Their story is a great example of biomimicry. They looked at how all plants on land have a surface layer that protects from drying and rotting, and they studied the molecular structure of those “peels” in fruits and vegetables. Then they developed a coating that mimics and amplifies their effectiveness. It’s kind of like nature wore a fleece outside in winter, and the Apeel Sciences folks gave her a winter coat to layer on top.
Take a look at the video on this page to see for yourself how good their coating is at prolonging the shelf life of produce. If their solution becomes ubiquitous in food supply chains, they could eliminate massive amounts of food waste. That will have cascading benefits, from limiting human hunger and increasing access to healthy foods all the way to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Don’t get me wrong – I love that bibs come with little pouches at the bottom. But I love simple biomimetic solutions to reduce food waste a heck of a lot more!