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Processing of invasive alien plant species into new, useful products

Instead of composting or incinerating invasive alien plant species, we are developing new ways how to process them into new, useful products (paper and wood products, dyes and hybrid coatings, extracts for controlling of plant harmful organisms, food source, input materials for the industries of the future and 3D composites). Invasive alien species are a locally accessible and abundant resource and opportunity for a new business model, promoting zero‑waste approach and circular economy.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Invasive alien plant species (IAPS) are one of the biggest challenges in European ecosystems. They displace local vegetation, destroy agricultural land and cause damage to European economy in billions of euros every year. Many of them are daily removed and mainly burned. Ljubljana, like many European cities, is faced with overgrowth of Japanese knotweed, one of the top 100 most invasive alien species in the world. Its rapid growth and strong, deep roots result in dense stands that quickly displace local vegetation and cause economic disadvantages.

In the past four years, the City of Ljubljana has offered its residents free deposition of removed Japanese knotweed in waste collection centers, before transferring it to an incinerator. Seeking to find innovative solutions to deal with this invasive plant and its further reuses, we have shifted the perspective, recognizing this undesirable plant as a locally accessible and abundant material for producing cellulose.

Currently in Slovenia, the pulp and paper industry is using somewhere between 350,000 and 400,000 tons of cellulose, all of which is imported from abroad. As part of promoting the title of European Green Capital 2016, the evolving initiative gathered five partners from different disciplines and sectors to test the first small scale industrial process of paper production from the widespread invasive plant. Approximately 100 volunteers and partners of the project were invited to take part in a series of urban harvesting actions organized by the City of Ljubljana, which included collecting 1,520 kg of Japanese knotweed stems. Taking the advice from the University Botanic gardens in Ljubljana, the volunteers collected dry winter stems. In this way, the new shoots of Japanese knotweed are weakened and the production process is shortened as the material doesn’t need additional drying. With the help of Snaga Public Waste Management Company, the gathered materials were cut into smaller pieces and taken to the Pulp and Paper Institute where they were carefully processed into a final amount of 415 kg of paper.

Two very useful products have emerged, namely notebooks and paper bags, designed by the Re-generacija collective. In autumn 2016, a campaign among vendors at the central open market in Ljubljana was carried out, promoting the replacement of plastic with paper bags, in which 1,600 bags made from Japanese knotweed were distributed among the vendors and buyers. The industrial-produced paper is also used for environment protection publishing.

In 2017 we have upgraded the pilot project with a hand crafted paper production from Japanese knotweed. The paper was used for the promotional purposes of the landscape park Tivoli, Rožnik and Šišenski hrib which lies right in the city centre. With more than 1.7 million visitors each year it is also the most frequently visited area in Slovenia. The area is covered with natural forest and is home to numerous species that are important in terms of nature conservation and appear on the Red List of endangered species. 12 motifs of landscape park’s natural features and activities were designed and printed onto a memory game, calendar, graphics and postcards. The promotional products are addressing not only the foreign visitors of the park, but also the residents of Ljubljana.

From November 2017, the City of Ljubljana is implementing the APPLAUSE project in which IAPS are considered a RESOURCE and starting point of a NEW BUSINESS MODEL: through large-scale educational and awareness raising campaigns citizens are encouraged to participate in IAPS harvesting and use. Collected IAPS feed three main ways of their further transformation that is performed at home (e.g. food, dyes), at tutored workshops (e.g. to produce wood or paper products) and in craftsman laboratories (e.g. to manufacture innovative products with market potential in social enterprises, employing vulnerable groups).

New green technologies are introduced (e.g. pilot enzymatic processing of IAPS fibers instead of chemical, reuse of wastes generated during primary wood processing and paper production, transformation of residues into liquefied wood, development of biotech-based biorafinery device for the conversion of liquor, production of 3D novel bio-composites, production of dyes, production of IAPS coloured coatings, development of a model of IAPS’s dye based solar cell and development of home-made formulations against plant harmful organisms).

ICT technology is used to address target groups and to produce open data, new knowledge and develop new services like IAPS monitoring with data from aerial orthophotos and Sentinel-2 satellites.

The results of the project are presented at public events and discussed at different expert meetings. The residents are strongly supporting the activities, linking the results with the higher quality of the living environment. New products are strong ambassadors, drawing people's attention to the IAPS issues and solutions.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

With the help of contemporary technologies and the knowledge of traditional craft making different IAPS serve as an input material for production of paper and wood products, industries of the future, 3D composites and liquefied wood, food dishes, dyes, hybrid coatings and extracts for controlling of plant harmful organisms. We are developing a new bio-technological process and greener technologies. Firstly, the waste residuals that is generated during the process is upcycled into new green components with high-added value and secondly, the existing paper production, which is environmentally harmful and no alternatives are yet to be found in practice is changed by the pioneering innovation on the manufacturing level to ecological production of paper pulp. We are working towards developing a pilot device for enzymatic processing of IAPS fibres and waste products to replace chemical treatment of the biomass and create a pilot example of a sustainable alternative.

What is the current status of your innovation?

We are carrying out laboratory analysis of suitability for processing selected IAPS into paper and wood product, food dishes, dyes and hybrid coatings. Field tests are carried out for extracts for controlling of plant harmful organisms. We are veryfing the possibility of using clones of microbes for the production of ferulic acid, which will be used together with lignin for chemical transformations into useful chemicals (e.g. vanilla, which is an intermediate in the production of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and other fine chemicals). We are testing sugars that are present in wood as a substrate for the cultivation of microbes. Microbes will further on convert these sugars into polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), which are suitable for the synthesis of polyesters with wide applicability. We are organising the first Festival of the application of invasive alien plants. Project APPLAUSE is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the Urban Innovative Actions initiative.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

The consortium of project Applause includes the City of Ljubljana, Snaga, d. o. o., University of Ljubljana: Biotechnical Faculty, Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Engineering, Jožef Stefan Institute, National Institute of Chemistry, Pulp and Paper Institute, TISA, d. o. o., GDi, d. o. o.,, Trajna Association, Studio tipoRenesansa, Centre of Excellence for Space Sciences and Technologies. The citizens and NGO’s are also participating.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The results of the project are presented at public events and discussed at different expert meetings. The residents are strongly supporting the activities, linking the results with the higher quality of the living environment. New products are strong ambassadors, drawing people's attention to the IAPS issues and solutions.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

The main focus of the first phase of the APPLAUSE project is on localisation and harvesting of the alien plant species. In Ljubljana there are more than 180 different alien plant species identified, approximately 40 of them are invasive. Within the project we are working on 25 alien plant species. More than half of these species are woody and can be found as shrubs or trees. So far we have managed to get 11 different species; altogether we collected 30 m3 of raw wood material (approximately 27.000 kg) of alien plant species. All collected raw material as well as residuals will be used for innovative products. We are finishing the testing of suitability for processing into wood product for 17 woody IAPS and of suitability for papermaking for 3 woody and 4 herbaceous IAPS. We have set up a collection point for IAPS with 7 different containers. The collection point is also equipped with communication board with written instructions for users.

Challenges and Failures

We are testing two new IAPS as a source for paper making: Canadian Goldenrod and Black locust. The main concern is the respond of paper making machines to pulp made of these two plants. The paper making machines are very sensitive to the size of the submitted fibre, therefore the pre-treatment of the pulp had to be very carefully calculated and carried out. The same applies for the hand-crafted paper production. A few restrictions regarding the printing on hand-crafted paper were encountered. By hand-crafted paper the thickness of the paper slightly varies which might cause problems to the printing machines. When printing hand-crafted paper, it should also be taken into account that the paper contains more impurities, so the colours might behave a bit different than on industrial-produced paper. Therefore, more attention to the printing techniques has to be paid.

Conditions for Success

A basic condition for project success is a general agreement that IAPS are a serious threat to local biodiversity, land use and economy. The project requires a shift from linear to circular thinking. A new perspective has to be introduced, presenting IAPS as a locally accessible and abundant resource and opportunity for a new business model. A highly motivated coordinator with a good organizational skills is therefore required. A lot of attention has to be paid to biomass harvesting and preprocessing. Products with high added value need to be introduced in order to maintain the business model.


IAPS are one of the biggest challenges in European ecosystems. They displace local vegetation, destroy agricultural land and cause damage to European economy in billions of euros every year. Many European cities and urban areas face the problem of IAPS. Most of them already have some practical policies for IAPS management but none is using IAPS as useful source or material for further zero waste production or manufacture. We strongly believe the issue is an important factor, very relevant for other urban authorities in Europe and thus bearing great potential to attract a lot of attention and interest. When applying project in another environment, diversity and abundance of IAPS needs to be considered. The project has the potential to include new IAPS by adjusting production and manufacture processes.

Lessons Learned

IAPS are a complex subject that requires an interdisciplinary approach. As many stakeholders as possible should be involved, each contributing their views, thus enriching the project. The involvement of residents (f.e. as a volunteers) is highly desirable, thus new valuable channels for information dissemination are gained and the transparency of the public institutions is improved. An implementation of actions must be adapted to local conditions. Small and medium-sized enterprises and NGOs should be invited to participate too, since they represent a huge opportunities for new green jobs and make an important contribution to the local economy, but most of all are highly susceptible to new business models. The paper manufacturing process is developed and is applicable and transferable to all other areas.

Anything Else?

The City of Ljubljana is aware that public participation and involvement is a key to success in every project. That’s why we have involved all our local communities in our past and present IAPS activities. We are running a very successful campaign “Gloves on” which includes free of charge guided tours and educational-working actions of IAPS removal. After three years, our campaign is now already locally and nationally recognized, representing a successful trade mark for holistic approach to IAPS issues. Special attention was and is given to activities that concern youngsters, starting with kindergarten children and continuing with elementary schools pupils. Campaign “Gloves on” therefore engages all categories of residents, including a large number of seniors and their associations. From 2009 we have also co-financed 23 NGOs project involving IAPS.

Year: 2016
Level of Government: Local government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

15 November 2016

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