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Bagasse, the fibrous substance that remains after juice has been extracted from sugarcane stalks, has long been used for roofing material in traditional houses throughout the Philippines, Jamaica, and Ghana, but here in the United States, it most often has been used as a biofuel or in biodegradable plastics—until recently. Architects are now finding new ways of incorporating the material into their work, either as a building material or as art. Gernot Riether, an architect and assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has been developing building components from environmentally friendly materials for years.

“We can, for instance, base the production of plastics on bagasse instead of fossil fuel,” Riether says. “In that way, plastic suddenly becomes an environmentally friendly material, which challenges us as architects to develop new techniques and methods to reintroduce plastic as a building material.” Others, such as the firm WallArt, are creating 3-D wall panels out of bagasse, offering a creative and unique paneling option for the green homeowner. Below, gb&d explores bagasse a little deeper, looking at its various uses, sustainable features, and a few recent projects where the sugarcane substance held the spotlight.

Bagasse has been used for everything from food trays to wallpaper. Because of its direct environmental superiority over paper and nonbiodegradable plastic, the substance is most often found in eco-friendly home products such as plates, cups, and bowls. Bagasse also often is used to make insulated disposable food containers to replace ones made of Styrofoam, and office-supply companies are processing the cane fiber with recycled paper fibers to make office products, including copy paper, envelopes, and card stock. The substance can also be converted into biofuel, animal feed, herbal cigarettes, building materials (e.g. pressed building board, acoustical tile, etc.), and much more.