Bee populations are drastically declining and scientists can’t figure out exactly why. If it’s not infections or insecticides, it’s cell phones, pollution, and anthropogenic displacement. Exponential urbanization and industrialization, scientists suspect, may be pushing bees to travel longer distances to find pollen, killing them through exhaustion. Some experts have proposed urban beehives and refuges to help worn-out bees, but that would take money at scale (and cities pose their own obstacles). What bees may need are places to fuel up along the way–in short, they need gas stations.
Enter Bee Saving Paper. Designed by paper craftswoman Malgorzata Lasocka, owner of Manufaktura Papieru Czerpanego w Kobylce in Poland, and four former creatives at advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, the paper is made with a pulp that contains a type of energy-rich glucose known as “fondant for bees,” a substance used by beekeepers to feed bees over the winter. The sugar is dissolved in the paper pulp, but thanks to its chemical properties, it doesn’t make the paper sticky. You don’t need a lot to produce the paper–only one pound of this substance can feed several thousand bees.
To make these paper “rest stops” attractive to passing bees, the team figured out a clever way to put up a kind of road sign.
When a bee looks at a field of flowers, it’s looking at an impressionistic landscape of little circles that are only visible in the ultra-violet side of the light spectrum. So the team printed circles on the paper using invisible UV ink that mimics the same qualities (it’s invisible to human eyes, though). The circles attract in-transit bees, which will discover that each sheet of paper is full of that delicious fondant. The design team also embedded the paper with seeds of Lacy Phacelia–a plant that’s a favorite flower for bees. If the biodegradable paper ends up on the ground, the seeds will grow into plants that can also feed bees.
Bee Saving Paper’s cofounder Anna Gadecka says via chat that she and her colleagues had the idea for the paper back in 2017, working after hours at Saatchi & Saatchi. That spring, they started experimenting with beekeepers and craftsmen to develop the concept. “Making the paper was an experiment on itself, and it took us a long time to figure it out,” she says. Nine months later, they were ready to show it to the world: “After we publicized it, we got a massive amount of emails from people interested in buying our paper, so we turned [our idea] into a startup company.”
The idea is to commercialize the paper globally from Poland. Gadecka thinks Bee Saving Paper could be perfect for many uses: Companies can buy it for food packaging, coffee cup sleeves, parking tickets, bags, writing paper, and even picnic plates. Anything that’s made out of paper can make use of Bee Saving Paper. If you throw any of those things into a dumpster or leave them on a table, you may feed a bee on its way to find flowers and save it from dying on the pavement.
According to Gadecka, the company has already successfully tested the paper on the field, designing and printing all the packaging for Łukasz Kaczorowski–a Polish beekeeper who lost over 95% of his hives. “For him, literally every bee matters,” she says (in fact, Every Bee Matters is the name of his honey.)
If bees disappear, we may face a potentially devastating extinction event. Losing them will trigger the loss of many plants that they pollinate, which will starve the animals that feed on those plants and the animals that eat those animals. And that’s only the beginning. We don’t have a lot of time to prepare for such an environmental catastrophe, despite the many ambitious plans for solutions like robotic bees or artificial habitats. So, in the meantime, “gas stations” like Bee Saving Paper are a welcome respite.