Is green paper the answer to Flanders’ grass waste dilemma?

Summary

Projects to deal with the vast amount of waste grass produced in Flanders include turning the cuttings into paper, or using them to make insulation panels for buildings

Uncontrollable verges

Flanders has a grass problem. Not the roll-your-own kind of grass, but the grass that grows along the edges of its roads and waterways. This grass has to be cut to keep the verges clear, but the current options for disposing of the cuttings are not ideal.

Next week officials and companies will sit down to discuss an alternative: turning the grass cuttings into paper. “Every year about 72,000 tons of grass are mowed along verges of regional and municipal roads, waterways and railways,” Piet Thys of Flemish Waterways told Het Laaste Nieuws.

Currently the favoured option for dealing with the cuttings is to compost them, but this costs money. “Delivering the cuttings to the composters accounts for 20% of the mowing cost,” Thys continued. “So the goal is to create a positive economic value from roadside grass, where we no longer have to pay for the processing.”

Making paper

The idea of turning the cuttings into paper comes from the Netherlands, where methods have been developed to turn grass into cardboard and other paper-based packaging materials. This responds to a growing demand for packaging, driven by the explosion in online shopping. Recycled paper meets some of this need, but cannot keep up, hence the interest in alternative sources of raw material.

Flanders cannot simply copy the Dutch approach, however, because the region’s paper industry tends to focus on fine paper products rather than packaging, and so must produce a higher grade of material. Seeing grass fibres in packaging is not a problem, but is unacceptable in the pages of a newspaper or magazine.

The meeting on 30 January will see if there is a way out of this impasse. Companies and other organisations have been invited to discuss how their knowledge and experience can be useful in connecting supply and demand.

Insulation mats made from grass cuttings are a sustainable alternative to existing mineral insulation mats

- Katrien Wijns

“This knowledge may have to do with the mowing, localisation and transport of grass, the development of semi-finished products or the production and marketing of grass paper products,” according to the invitation.

Other options for dealing with grass cuttings, along with other kinds of green waste, are being explored through GrasGoed, an EU-funded project run by Flemish conservation group Natuurpunt. As well as paper and cardboard, this initiative is looking at options for producing nutrient-rich soil, animal feed supplements and home insulation materials.

Earlier this month, Natuurpunt announced that Regionaal Landschap Dijleland, an organisation working on nature and heritage projects in Flemish Brabant, had chosen to renovate a building it has taken over in Heverleebos with grass-based insulation material.

“Insulation mats made from grass cuttings from nature reserves are a sustainable alternative to existing mineral insulation mats,” says GrasGoed project manager Katrien Wijns. “The panels have a lambda insulation value of 0.04, they are flame retardant, and they meet all the requirements that apply in the construction sector.”

The mats have been produced by Dutch company Newfoss and Swiss company Gramitherm, using clippings from Flemish nature reserves supplied by the Agentschap voor Natuur en Bos and Natuurpunt.