Soft rush is a type of weed which grows in tufts in wetland habitats like marshes, wet woodlands, ditches and grassland. The plant is extremely invasive, plentiful, and fast growing. Soft rush is widely recognized as an unwanted weed. Although, in the Netherlands, they have definitely figured out how to make good use of it.
Thousands of pounds of soft rush are pulled up and removed by the Netherlands state forestry department every year. It is then fermented and turned into biogas. They also use the plant to improve the structure of agricultural soil that contains a lot of sand. The fibers help firm up overly sandy soil.
It’s great news to hear that the state forestry has found a way to turn a nuisance into a sustainable asset. But they aren’t the only ones making good use of the pesky weed. There is also Don Kwaning, a smart individual with sustainability in mind. He decided to experiment with the plant’s potential uses for a project called Medulla during his graduate year at the Design Academy Eindhoven.
He took inspiration from seeing the plant in its whole form processed into Japanese tatami mats. But with his Medulla project, he took the design a step further with the realization that separating the pith from the fibers opened up entirely new applications. Doing so, he was able to create paper, corrugated cardboard, a foam-like substance, and a pressed fiber used to make furniture, all from the same material.
Two In One
- The pith of the soft rush is lightweight, shock-resistant and insulating.
- It can be turned into a light foam-like material.
- It can be compressed in different densities.
- The foamy pith doesn’t require any bonding additives.
- This makes it suitable for use as a lightweight sheet material that can be applied in furniture production.
- These properties also make it suitable for use as an ecological packaging material.
- It offers excellent protection both in compressed block form and as long tangled noodle strings.
- The versatility of density options makes it possible to make both packing and storage boxes. Kwaning suggests that “this box could be an ecologically friendly replacement of the polystyrene packaging boxes.”
- The substance can be pressed into a material similar to the widely produced MDF, but without requiring any sort of binding agent.
- The fibers are more sturdy and can be developed into materials like paper, corrugated cardboard, rope, non-wovens and textiles.
- They are also useful as a building material for another type of packing box. These boxes made from the fibers can be dual purposed into a side table by stacking them together.
Kwaning has opened the door for an entirely new material option for a range of manufacturing markets. He enthusiastically says:
“The interesting thing is that you can make furniture and packaging materials from the same material, so low and high value products from the same material!”