Coconut is a valued commodity right now — and most everyone is familiar with its various uses. From coconut oil and butter to shredded coconut and super-hydrating coconut water, the fruit is everywhere you look.
What many people don’t realize is that the production of coconut products generates a lot of waste in the form of coconut husks. Of the approximately 50 billion coconuts grown worldwide, about 85% of the husks are discarded like trash, adding fuel to the fire that is global pollution.
Is there an easy way to prevent all this waste? As it turns out, there is!
Repurposing Coconut Husks
The fibers from coconut husks, which are known as coir, are actually incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of different products. Perhaps the most straightforward is one coconut husk chips, which are, quite literally, small ‘chips’ of coconut husk that look a bit like garden mulch. It’s a popular planting medium used in place of peat to help the plant retain moisture resist fungal growth.
Coir is often used to make doormats and brushes, which the fibrous material is perfect for. It can also be used to make twine, particle board, and sustainable packing material, and is even a component in mattresses and floor tiles.
Some companies, though, are taking it a step further and using a composite material made from coconut husks and recycled plastic to create automotive trunk liners, living wall planters, and electric car battery pack covers. In addition to being stronger and stiffer than synthetic plastic fibers, this green material is lighter and offers better performance, which can lead to cost savings for companies.
And then there’s the fact that ‘green’ materials are having a moment — and they are, more than likely, the way of the future. Both consumers and businesses are drawn to materials that repurpose or otherwise incorporate waste, and this represents a potentially huge business opportunity moving forward.
Economic and Environmental Impact
Estimates suggest that 95% of those 50 billion coconuts grown around the world are owned by about 10 million farmers who earn an average income of less than $2 per day. Elisa Teipel, is the co-founder of Texas-based company Essentium Materials — a company that was built on turning waste into resources. She believes that the successful adoption of these new composite materials in North American markets could significantly increase — and, in many cases, double — the annual income for coconut farmers, transforming families and communities.
The environmental impact is also substantial. Elisa and her team estimate that it’s possible to reduce petroleum consumption by between 2 and 4 million barrels and lower carbon dioxide emissions by about 450,000 tons each year — all by replacing synthetic polyester fibers with coir, or coconut husk fibers.
India and Sri Lanka are the main producers of coir right now, responsible for about 90% of all production. But Indonesia and the Philippines are the top producers of coconut, which means there’s a significant opportunity to bring coir production to that region, as well.