WEEDS USED FOR INDUSTRIAL LEAKS
'A weed is a plant whose virtues have never been discovered' , wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. In this case the properties of a particularly invasive 'weed' have not only been unearthed but are readily being utilised to help improve both the environment and livelihoods ...
Green Keeper Africa in Benin is a start-up which designs, manufactures and sells 100% organic absorbants for oil spills and chemical leaks made from harvesting water hyacinths, which can be used to soak up the oil in an easy, cost-effective way. Able to encapsulate up to 17 times its weight in hydrocarbons, water hyacinths may look pretty, with their broad green leaves and light purple flowers, and may initially prove beneficial as they filter the water, but they have no predators and reproduce at such an alarming rate that in just a few months 10 plants can become 500,000 or more! This invasive species, introduced from South America to Africa in the 1800s, clogs lakes and waterways, overtaking fishing zones and disrupting valuable ecosystems.
Creating jobs for local communities, over 1000 people have been employed to harvest and clear the weed from areas where they're taking over, after which the plants are broken down into loose absorbant fibres which are used to stuff bags, pillows and socks in emergency spill kits that can soak up to 58 gallons of liquid. And once they've been deployed to soak up the spills, Green Keeper Africa also ensures that they're disposed of properly, working with a partner that burns the oil-soaked packs creating energy to power a cement kiln in the process.
The company have had to put plans to expand their operations to nearby countries on hold due to Covid-19 but hope to be able to start spreading their environmental and social impact again soon.