Biomimicry

I’m currently reading this book: The Story of Stuff. How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health – and a Vision for Change by Annie Leonard.

I’m ashamed to say that I picked it up in a charity shop about 4 years ago, started to read it, stopped and then it went back on the shelf for years! Let’s just say it’s quite heavy going and American-centric, but there are a lot of relevant points to anyone, living anywhere in the world.

Today, I was interested to learn of the concept of ‘biomimicry‘. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that term used and described in this particular way before. But I wanted to make a note of it for future reference. Biomimicry is apparently a trend in modern design, in which designs are influenced by nature.

There is even an organisation called the Biomimicry Institute which has noticed that “nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. They have found what works, what is appropriate, and most important, what lasts here on earth. This is the real news of biomimicry: After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.

Biomimicry experts have identified the following list of core principles in how nature functions:

  1. runs on sunlight and uses only the energy it needs
  2. uses a water-based chemistry
  3. fits form to function
  4. recycles everything
  5. rewards cooperation
  6. banks on diversity
  7. demands local expertise
  8. curbs excesses from within
  9. taps the power of limits

So, the art and science of biomimicry takes these principles and figures out how to make human technologies, infrastructure, and products that adhere to them as well.

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Some examples given in the book, are that the peacock’s brilliant feathers are not created through pigment, but through shape. They have many layers that allow light to bounce off them in different ways, which translate as colour to the naked eye. I had to Google this a bit further, it’s known as ‘structural colouration’ and was first discovered by Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton (2 English scientists). It describes microscopically structured surfaces, fine enough to interfere with invisible light (sometimes in combination with pigments). So, peacock feathers are actually pigmented brown, as you can see when you turn them over. But it’s their microscopic structure that makes them reflect blue, green and turquoise light and they are often iridescent. Butterflies also use this ‘technique’. Perhaps this could avoid the need for toxic dyes to be created, if we could harness a similar technique?

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Mother of pearl is created in cold, salt water – a substance twice as strong as ceramic. Perhaps we could eliminate the use of fossil fuels, in heating kilns to make ceramics? Maybe we could learn to extract metals from cold water?

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The threads that hold a mussel shell to a rock naturally dissolve after 2 years. Perhaps we could study this and learn to create compostable packaging? (I think this one is starting to occur, approx 10 years after the book was written).

I’m not a product designer, but I did once study art. I think it’s fascinating to look at the natural world more closely, even if I was just doing it for beauty’s sake. I would have no idea how to create the intricacies of a leaf, for example, with veins running through it to carry water and nutrients, or cells that contained chlorophyll and knew how to grow, and goodness else knows whatever else goes on in there! But I bet there are scientists who could begin to work on these dilemmas. Perhaps artists could work with scientists to create truly beautiful, functional designs that remained harmless to us and our planet?

It seems to me that there is more to being a designer than just knowing about technology, or engineering, or science. Everything in the natural world seems to hold some innate beauty within it too. I can’t help but come back to the Christian ideas of intelligent design or things being created by someone far cleverer than us. Perhaps the plants and animals haven’t found out what works by trial and error over time? Perhaps they were designed that way from the outset? By someone who already knew the delicate balance of the earth’s chemistry and systems? It’s an interesting thought isn’t it?

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TK Maxx Zero Waste Finds!

I stop into TK Maxx every now and again; I like a good rummage. I have found all manner of Zero Waste items here. My top tip is to look here for Dr Bronner’s Castile soap – they frequently have both liquid and bar formats. If you’re on a budget, you will find them much cheaper than your local whole foods store. They also often have bar soaps either in tins or wrapped in paper, it just depends how picky about your ingredients you are.

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I recently wrote about how I found these WONDERFUL solid beeswax body lotions in TK Maxx. Actually, I’m gutted I’m about to come to the end of my supply and I haven’t seen them since. Post in the comments if you find any!

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This week I found a lovely scrubbing brush for doing the dishes, made from solid wood and natural bristles. I bought my e-cloths here, although I now realise they’re not as perfect a cleaning solution, as I once thought due to the plastic microfibres released when washing. But they were vastly cheaper than other places.

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I also have some great glass Pyrex dishes with lids, that can go straight from the freezer to the oven or microwave as they are thermal shock resistant. It also means I no longer freeze a lot of things in plastic.

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I also found this wonderful Pyrex baking sheet in TK Maxx. No nasty silicone coatings and best of all, it goes straight in the dishwasher and comes out looking like new! It is slightly heavier than your standard baking trays and you do need to take care putting it in, and out of the oven.

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I frequently see Kilner and other glass storage jars in here. They often have eco-makeup brushes too. They always seem to have cardboard boxes containing sets of essential oils, packaged in glass.

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They also frequently have glass water bottles and always have metal water bottles in stock. I have seen Klean Kanteen’s in here, really cheap! I got my metal one there for about £4, I think. I’ve had it for years and I will likely go back there to get a glass one eventually.

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Oh and I always get my TEK hairbrushes here, for about 1/4 of the RRP. These are solid wood brushes with either wooden or natural bristles. They are amazing and packaged only in cardboard!

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Do you have any great TK Maxx zero waste finds to share? Please share by posting in the comments 🙂 Other people have told me you can also buy bamboo socks here, in cardboard packaging and loofahs which are useful for cleaning your home and your body.