Processing invasive alien plants into useful products and input material for industry



Policy areas

Organisation name The city of Ljubljana

Share this article via:

Contact person: Zala Strojin Božič, Circular Economy Manager

Third prize winner in category Green in EPSA 2021:

In Slovenia, about 150 alien plant species can be found in nature, of which at least a third are invasive or potentially invasive. These are the so-called invasive alien plant species (IAPS), which have been recognised for several decades as one of the most important reasons for the decline of biodiversity. They can also cause economic and environmental damage, and some are even harmful to human health. Around 20% of land in the city of Ljubljana is protected with natural environment status, so it is vital that citizens know how to recognise and eradicate IAPS but at the same time, these plants can be taken into account for their potential without encouraging their systematic cultivation.

In this regard, the city of Ljubljana decided to address the issue in an innovative way and introduced a citizen involvement participative model. This is based on education and cooperation, and built on three levels of engagement according to citizens’ interests and motivations. The residents of Ljubljana are encouraged to recognise and process IAPS on their own, or they can access four locations where they can be educated and trained on how to do it. They can also simply hand over the biomass at the collection points. The project objectives are raising awareness and helping citizens on the identification, collection and use of IAPS. They include the development of new tools for the identification and inventory of IAPS sites, the analysis of biomass suitability and development of new IAPS products, and the establishment of a public information platform for the identification and control of IAPS.

In contrast to the past, the main objective of the new IAPS management system in the city of Ljubljana is to bring a paradigm shift to the specific IAPS management. It also introduces a more general conservation management approach. Therefore, the new management system recognises the potential of setting up a systematic participatory model which uses IAPS biomass to develop new sustainable products. Instead of burning the collected IAPS in incinerators or composting, the new approach focuses on controlling the IAPS population by developing a circular production process. In this way, it reduces CO2 emissions in the city and increases the resilience of local economies and ecologies.

Processing of IAPS into new, useful products is already published as a case study on OECD’s Observatory for Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) portal.

Nowadays, it has developed 67 ways of processing IAPS into useful products and input materials for industry. A total of 92 researchers have participated in project’s activities. The possibilities of IAPS processing are showcased every year at the Festival of IAPS reuse in the city centre in October, which has hosted 1300 visitors in three years.

So far, four DIY catalogues have been published on paper and wood products, textile dying and printing paper, pest repellent and food recipes. Indeed, experience shows that the use of short films, e.g. on YouTube, interactive 3D models, culinary workshops and phone apps, are the most popular and efficient in the process of citizens’ education: in the long run, identifying and eradicating IAPS must become a habit and the activities proposed to citizens must be easy and fun.

The platform for the identification and life-long monitoring of IAPS has been introduced and it consists of back-office applications and public applications that work on the same, unified database. So far it has collected 30 000 data for 121 plant species on 20 000 growing sites.

Five separate standalone circular business models have been implemented.

  • The city’s public water and waste management company JP VOKA SNAGA carries out educational and creative workshops on paper and wood processing. Wood and handmade paper workshops offer a sustainable solution on how IAPS can be handled in the future.
  • The Pulp and Paper Institute delivers educational workshops with a tour of the pilot paper machine, to demonstrate the basics of IAPS papermaking.
  • The tipoRenesansa studio delivers workshops for making posters with IAPS wooden letters for letterpress printing.
  • The Trajna association is implementing socially, sustainable and environmentally responsive educational workshops to teach how to design products from IAPS wood and paper.
  • New business ideas have been designed: 8 new materials, 33 new recipes, 5 new methods and 2 new processes have been developed. The result is one patent, and another four are still in the process of verification.

The University of Ljubljana will continue to include IAPS in their pedagogic and research activities. The Faculty of Natural Sciences and Engineering is planning to establish a spin-off organisation to further develop their activities. Two patent applications have already been carried out by the Jožef Stefan Institute; one patent has been awarded, and one is still in the process of verification. Both Slovenian satellites, which are an important milestone for the country’s as well as Europe’s space technology efforts, have been placed in orbit, with Nemo HD circulating at 515 kilometres and Trisat at 530 kilometres above Earth. Nemo HD will for instance help monitor the Earth for agricultural, forestry, urbanistic and maritime transport purposes.

In December 2020, 13 232 people were unemployed in the city of Ljubljana, and one of the most vulnerable groups is young professionals with unstable working positions. Thanks to the new IAPS management system, new green jobs will be created and so far, 375 undergraduate and postgraduate students have gained new knowledge that will improve their employment possibilities.

Also interesting