Food for Thought

Recap SYMBIOSIS Deep Dive – Using Invasive Species as Resources

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How do we become farmers of invasive species?

Finally, you planted the apple tree in your backyard! But wait a minute, what are those reddish branches that seem to have appeared? Unbeknownst to you, this Japanese knotweed now seems to be everywhere! This is not just a homeowner’s worry, but perhaps a farmer’s worst nightmare… Invasive species are here! So, what happens when they arrive and what can we do about them? Find out more by reading this blogpost!

On the 13th of May, BlueCity held its first physical SYMBIOSIS symposium, introducing the bioeconomy and facilitating conversations around humans and our interactions with biodiversity. In the exciting deepdive ‘Using Invasive Species as Resources’, we had participants from various professions including material engineers, agriculture, fashion designers and more. In this blog, I will take you through what invasive species are and how we can draw out their benefits. 

What are invasive species and why should we care about them? 

Invasive species are organisms that cause ecological or economic harm in the environment. They can come in the form of plants, animals, bacteria etc. Someone mentioned: “It is not what the species is, but what it does.”  Most participants agreed that a species should be considered as invasive when posing a threat not just to the environment, but the economy and human health too. 

What are the challenges involved with invasive species?

The 4 Rs of managing invasive species were discussed. Remove, Reduce, Reuse and Rethink. It is often extremely costly and difficult for the government to completely eradicate invasive species. Therefore, they only intervene when there is a large-scale risk. The question is: “Whose finances are most at risk?” Various industries can be affected, from agriculture to water. Regulations will be set in place, enhancing traceability, requiring quarantining and then destroying of the identified species and the surrounding area. While these plants themselves are not illegal, transporting them is. From those complexities arises the challenge of using invasive species as resources, although we need to first start seeing them as such. 

What are the opportunities that using invasive species can offer?

Several solutions were discussed, including the use of Japanese knotweed as a material for chipboard, or capturing American lobsters (that are destroying dikes) and mainstreaming them as edible food. 

How can start-ups use invasive species for their circular business models? 

Dealing with invasive species often borders on legality concerns with regards to transporting these species for experimentation. So what are the important discussions surrounding the monetization of them? 

  1. Biomass

Does this species have a significant biomass to work as a resource and a stable quantity throughout the year?

  1. Importance of “Knowing your toolbox”

“How does the plant grow, harvest or reproduce? What are its chemical properties?” Analyze the composition of your targeted species.  

  1. Use ALL of it

For a good business case, one should best use all components of the species, because if there is any residue leftover, it may no longer be profitable as a resource.

  1. Collaboration is key

At the moment, groups surrounding invasive species are very decentralized and ad hoc. More collaboration is needed amongst each other. This can include the crossover of various sectors, for example design, engineering, communication and marketing. There is not one specific government department overseeing invasive species. Hence, during the “Remove” and “Reduce” stage, considerations should be made including designers, so as not to ‘waste’ these potential resources.

  1. Product = Chain Development

Not only do we need engineers and designers, but also creative and financial minds. Greater education is also needed with respect to the development of systems in order to connect the different actors. For example, transporting invasive species is illegal for the layman, but not for waste collectors. Hence, waste collectors should be included in this network too.

  1. Join official programs

To scavenge these species legally, the best option might be to join local programs due to the strict regulations surrounding its transportation. When good solutions are found, you can then scale up your model and request exemption from legislation. However, take note that this stage may sometimes take years to be realized as the government may not have the capacity to look into it.

  1. Go for a beer” aka knowledge sharing

Due to the fragmented initiatives surrounding this industry, more avenues for knowledge and experience sharing is crucial including initiatives such as Hackathons that gather multidisciplinary teams together with experts and problem owners.

There is no one linear process in using invasive species as a resource, but a change in perspective towards these species would be essential to start viewing them not as a waste but as a resource. Instead of adapting nature to the market, we should be adapting the market to nature.” It’s about time for us to become farmers of invasive species!

Did this blog spark your excitement on getting your hands dirty in making a circular economy happen? Then make sure to check out the website of BlueCity for possibilities to engage in all things circular economy.

This blogpost was written by Chloe Tan. She is a student-correspondent at the Design Impact Transition (DIT) platform, a strategic initiative from EUR aimed at supporting transformative education and research at the university. The DIT platform and BlueCity have teamed up with student-correspondents to spread the messages on circular economy and transformative academic work on the whole campus. Are you interested in the DIT platform and its mission? Or would you like to become a student-correspondent yourself? Then reach out to DIT, online.