From Weed to Renewable Material Resource
The search for sustainable materials has led people full circle, so it seems, as natural and renewable sources have pointed to commonplace items that have several traditional uses. These materials are taken from their traditional uses (notice the thatched roof on the unique mud hut in the photo above? Yup, you got it–cogon) and are thus recreated into (financially) higher-value products, such as designer furniture, jewelry and other accessories. One such material that is garnering more attention nowadays is cogon grass.
These are the tufts of tall grasses that typically have fluffy white stuff on top that you normally find in vacant lots around your neighborhood, and are currently seen as an unwanted weed in some parts of the world. Makati City, currently Metro Manila’s central business district, was a swampland overrun with cogon grass during the time of the Spaniards. Before it became overrun with skyscrapers and concrete pavements, elder folk would tell of the tall, itchy grasses that populated the area, and I thought that the city’s name had more to do with the itchiness (“makati” in Filipino literally translates to itchy) that comes after the experience of wading through tall grasses. Though that story did have a logic to it in my simple mind, I only found out (in my current ahem–adult state) that makati during the time of the Spaniards (in the local language) referred to the “ebbing tide”.
But okay, back to materials.
Cogon grass came to my attention when I learned of a promising initiative called Woven Hope. Winner of this year’s Business in Development challenge, this endeavor seeks to provide livelihood to women in different communities by providing them with skills to produce useful, marketable, high-value items (in this case, furniture) from cogon grass. Yes, you heard it! The unwanted weed is now being used as a sustainable tool for creative purposes, as well as for uplifting lives.
Here’s a photo of one of the interesting pieces they presented at the BiD challenge.
Pretty neat, huh? Awesome potential. Apart from being a sustainable craft material, cogon grass has medicinal purposes (its flower and root are used in traditional Chinese medicine), and is being explored as an element in sustainable packaging–be it cardboard, or as an element in a biodegradable form of plastic. The last two uses by the way are products of a couple of science high schools in Metro Manila (Philippine Science and Caloocan Science High School, respectively).
So, be it paper, cardboard, furniture, jewelry, thatched roofs or traditional medicine, cogon grass has definitely gone beyond the pretty fluffy grass that blows in the wind in my book. I do hope more artists and designers will look to this material for further creative uses.
Photos above are from: