Reed on the coast and straws in the glass


The common reed is the tallest and highest-yielding species of grass in Estonia. Its stem is up to 3 cm thick and the plant stands up to 6 metres tall. Reeds can often be found growing next to bodies of water, in marshes, and on the edges of boglands. In total, Estonia has approximately 26,000 hectares of reed beds, while the area exceeds 300,000 hectares in the entire Baltic Sea region. 

Reed often evokes the image of a tall plant swaying on the coast; or decorating the roofs of ancient-looking farm houses. However, when we look at its effect on nature and the possible ways of using the plant,an entirely different picture is uncovered.

Reed on shores has several hidden negative effects on the biodiversity of the area. While it binds nutrients effectively, it hinders the development of other species with its tall clusters, causing the plant communities of coastal meadows to dwindle. In simple terms, reed grows like a weed, eliminating other species around it. 

Throughout history, livestock has often been kept in seaside areas. Herding them to mow these areas contributed to the diversity of the vegetation and kept it from growing excessively. The coastal landscapes that developed over the years were created as a cooperation between humans and the natural order. Our ancestors were familiar with the art of living symbiotically with nature.

However, when numbers of livestock plummeted, semi-natural coastal meadows grew beyond previous limits and reed beds were formed. The resting, feeding, and nesting areas of numerous bird species were destroyed. 

As raw material reed is an abundant, quickly renewable source material with excellent functional properties. Reed is still used for making roofs and walls, as thermal insulation, or simply as mulch. Another use can now be added to this list – reusable reed drinking straws (we created last year).

On average, a single reed provides enough material for two reusable drinking straws. The remainder of the plant is turned into a reed-based material, from which we will make plates, decorative panels, etc. The reed, a bit of a curse on coastal meadows, is perfect for creating substitutes for single-use plastic.

Harvesting reed cleans up coastal areas and improves the growth conditions of other species. The raw material is natural, local, and quickly renewable – therefore, the products we make have little to no effect on the climate. When processed responsibly, items made of reed are fully biodegradable, maintain high functionality, and lessen the global waste pollution caused by the use of synthetic materials.

It is idyllic to be sat on a clean, biologically diverse beach, observing the birds flying between coastal meadows, and drinking local lemonade with a Suckõrs reed straw. To maintain this reality, reed must be harvested in sufficient quantity and made into products that allow us to consume in harmony with nature.

References:

  1. Miljan, J., Kask, Ü. (2013). Pilliroog ja selle kasutamise võimalused. Tartu: Department of Rural Building of the Estonian University of Life Sciences; Department of Thermal Engineering of TalTech
  2. Kruus, R. (2006). Roostike elustik ja roostike laienemise põhjused. Lõputöö. University of Tartu Türi College
  3. Heinsoo, K., Melts, I., Eestis taastatud veerežiimiga turvasmuldadele soovitatavad taimsed monokultuurid. Used on 19 August 2019,
  4. Lotman, A., Rannaniidud, Keskkonnajuht 2/96. Used on 19 August 2019
  5. Inimese ja looduse tasakaal, Profilm. Used on 19 August 2019