Two Canadian environmentalists believe they have the solution for cleaning up oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Inventor and herbalist Dirk Stass and permaculturalist Gabe Cipes of Summerhill Organics & Wildcraft in Canada's Kelowna, British Columbia are advocating the harvesting and use of cattail — the flower of the bulrush plant — to soak up oil.
Stass and Cipes say cattail fluff soaks up 20 times its own weight in oil, floats and is impermeable to water. "Cattail is nature's way of cleaning waterways all over the world," Cipes says. The soaked-up oil can then be salvaged from the cattail by press or centrifuge, and each cattail can be reused as many as 10 times. Stass and Cipes also say the cattail can be harvested sustainably without destroying future plant growth. "With 100 kilograms of cattail, we believe we can absorb 20 tons of oil," Cipes says.
The goal is to harvest the cattail — which commonly grows in marshes, swamps and other ecosystems with stagnant water — on a global level. "What I'd like is to involve every continent," Cipes says. He proposes that other countries ship their cattail to the United States to be used in the Gulf and get the costs reimbursed by BP. "Everyone can increase their quality of life from this," he says.
Stass and Cipes tested their theory by using small amounts of cattail to soak up tractor oil in buckets of salt water.
"We found it to be really effective," Cipes says. "We know crude oil is a different consistency (than tractor oil), but we're pretty confident it's going to work."
The two will test the effect of bulk amounts of cattail in the Gulf during an August demonstration with the National Wildlife Federation.
"We need to empower the people to do this and to reconnect with nature," Cipes says. "We need to change the way we look at the world or pretty soon we won't have one." — Sarah Eddington