In Europe, Japanese knotweed is classified as an invasive exotic plant species that is native to Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea. The plant was introduced by Philipp Franz von Siebold to The Netherlands as a garden plant in 1823. The species spread from the Hortus Botanicus botanical gardens in Leiden throughout The Netherlands and Europe.
The plant only started to become invasive on a large scale after 1950 by the dumping of garden waste with plant remnants. Today, Japanese knotweed can be found almost everywhere in The Netherlands. The plant is actively controlled, although this is still very difficult to maintain without the use of harsh pesticides.
The plant’s waste material is not used, it is burned instead, although it is a strong bamboo-like plant that grows incredibly fast. The young shoots can be eaten and taste like rhubarb.
Rotterdam chef Pepijn Schmeink found the plant in his vegetable garden and while eradicating the plant, he used the shoots to make delicious sorbet ice cream in his restaurant. He was left with bulks of strong cellulose material and wondered if it could be put to use in applications other than food. He gave me his leftover material to research how to use the plant for textiles.
I strongly believe in the value of the residual flow of Japanese knotweed. Because this plant is being fought hard with the aim of completely eradicating the species, it is difficult to gain a foothold to use the residual flow for design projects.
With BlueCity Rotterdam I explored how to create valuable products from this industrial waste, with a parallel focus on a valid business model behind the delivered prototypes. That’s why Japanese knotweed was chosen as one of the residual flows for BlueCity’s Circular Challenge 2022.
During the Circular Challenge, a team of young professionals develops a circular business case with industrial waste – in 6 weeks time. Team Why Knot developed a wall panel made from the Japanese knotweed plant and won the Circular Challenge.
During BlueCity’s Symbiosis festival we organised a Deep Dive session about using invasive species as a resource.
Laura Luchtman, Kukka