What is Water hyacinth?
Often confused with the water lily, the water Hyacinth is a free-floating perennial aquatic plant that is characterized by its broad and thick leaves. It may rise up to 1 meter in height which causes blockage in waterways.
- It is considered one of the worst aquatic plant species.
- It can reproduce at an extraordinary rate.
- Its leaves can grow and expand up to 6 feet thick.
- Surprisingly, the water Hyacinth thrives in polluted bodies of water. Studies have been done to test its properties for phytoremediation, a low-cost cleanup technique that directly uses living plants to lessen environmental contamination. However, no initiatives have been done to explore and utilize this potential.
1. Environmental impact
Deemed as one of the most damaging aquatic plants in the world, the water hyacinth has severely infested Philippine waters and its nearby communities with its rapid rate of proliferation. It can flower throughout the year and releases more than 3 000 seeds per year. With this extraordinary rate of production, the Water Hyacinth species outnumber other aquatic species in the vicinity, threatening the stability of fresh water and its biological diversity. Furthermore, its leaves and pads can reduce light and oxygen, which causes phytoplanktons to significantly decrease in number, affecting the photosynthetic cycle and endangering fish species.
2. Impact on Safety and Health
Death and decay of large masses of the Water Hyacinth can cause rapid deterioration of water quality, potentially losing sources of clean, potable water. In addition, the floating mats of the water hyacinth serve as breeding ground for pests and other organisms detrimental to the health and safety of neighboring communities. There is an alarming increase of cases of malaria and cholera which can be attributed to swarms of mosquitos, snails, and other disease-carrying parasites that are commonly found inhabiting the Water Hyacinth pads. There are also increased incidences of crocodile attacks and snake bites that are said to have been caused by the extra cover and protection provided by the large pads of the water Hyacinth .
3. Economic Impact
This invasive species has not only threatened aquatic biodiversity but also hindered economic and social development among affected communities. In Laguna de Bay, it covers about 20% of the lake’s surface area; and because of the water’s high sewage concentrations, the plant yields about 657 tons of dry matter per hectare a year. In the 1990s, the world reportedly spent $3 Billion a year just to control the weed with little success.
It also causes problems in marine transportation, fishing, and irrigation. By clogging up waterways, it causes floods and increased water pollution. Its pervasive presence has caused barriers to waterways and hindered the development of the fishing industry, especially in the major water areas of the Philippines (Pasig River, Laguna de Bay, etc.). It also clogs irrigation systems, causing heavy flooding in major cities during the typhoon season.
Because the Water Hyacinth is known for being one of the most invasive plant species, many people disregard its benefits and livelihood opportunities.
- New food source for animals
Many research scientists have investigated its potential as an inexpensive and sustainable food substitute for livestock. Massive volumes of dried water Hyacinth may be ground and treated using specific chemicals and machines to turn them into a viable food source for animals . However, more research must be put into its economic feasibility as the treatment process may be complicated and costly. Despite this, with its enormous potential, this could significantly help water-infested communities financially and economically.
2. Water purifier
As mentioned earlier, the Water Hyacinth has already been tested for its phytoremediation properties, used to purify contaminated water. In a drinking water treatment plant water hyacinth have been used as part of the pretreatment purification step. After this purification process, the water will result in a significant decrease in turbidity. Water hyacinth has also been used for the removal or reduction of nutrients, heavy metals, organic compounds and pathogens from water .
Water hyacinth can also be used as compost and fertilizer. In countries where mineral fertilizers are expensive, this can serve as a sustainable and cheap alternative for high-quality fertilizers. The water hyacinth pads are dried and mixed with ash, soil, and animal manure. The mixture can be left in piles to compost, the warmer climate of tropical countries accelerating the process. The compost increases soil fertility and crop yield and generally improves the quality of the soil .
4. Furniture, Handicrafts, and Paper
The Water Hyacinth is only a pest when we don’t utilize it to its full potential. Many companies and social entrepreneurs have explored the idea of using Water Hyacinth as paper, ropes, or the base of woven bags and other handicrafts.
Sources: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Our company, Jacinto and Lirio, is one of the few that uses creativity to market this “pest” as a viable environmental, social and commercial solution to this infestation problem.
Through the creation of well-designed, functional and Philippine-inspired plant leathergoods, Jacinto&Lirio aims to improve the lives of people from both ends of the spectrum—the water hyacinth communities who are empowered through meaningful work, and the people purchasing who are enriched by the eco-friendly products. We aim to work within a collaborative business model for the purpose stated in the mission– social impact in livelihood, environmental protection, and product innovation.
Jacinto and Lirio’s core mission is to help our partner communities in our supply chain to be sustainable & scalable enterprises. There is a need to strengthen the sustainability of community livelihoods using indigenous materials, which is a major source of income in various areas in Asia.
We capitalize on material innovations to create higher-value products using their indigenous materials. This supply chain synergy will be the platform to channel wealth back to the communities which will benefit community development and give a higher quality of life.
For every purchase of Jacinto & Lirio, we contribute to the community development of our partners so they can keep transforming their families, and their communities for the better.