Fire Resistant Coconut Husks Could Replace Wood And Save Millions Of Trees
It is estimated that 15.3 billion trees are cut down each year, mainly for manufacturing.
Even though wood isn't essential for manufacturing goods, the development of alternatives has been very slow. CocoPallet is a Dutch start-up planning to change that trend by manufacturing transport pallets with recycled coconut husks.
Their product is 100% organic, durable and it's both lighter and cheaper than wood. What's more important is that their redesigned pallets could save 200 million trees that are cut down annually for manufacturing traditional shipping pallets.
Michiel Vos, founder of CocoPallet now commercializes the technology originally developed by researchers at Wageningen University. More than twenty years ago, Jan Van Dam, a scientist Wageningen University was shown something he had not seen before, by an Indonesian man.
"It looked like a normal piece of hardboard. But according to this man, it was not made out of logged trees, but completely made out of coconut bark, the outer shell of the fruit. Rock hard, wood-like board material from coconut husk? That was new to me," Van Dam said.
He also explained that such a recyclable product is necessary, especially in places like Asia, where coconut waste is enormous.
"I saw a huge potential here. Mainly in Asia, enormous amounts of coconuts are produced, which leads to a huge pile of wasted coconut husk. In many tropical countries, the coconut waste is rotting away by the side of the road or is set on fire. If you make raw materials out of the husk, you will hit several birds with one stone: you prevent deforestation, because less wood will be produced, you give farmers an extra income, because their waste is worth money, and you prevent the material from slowly rotting away, reducing pollution and climate change."
Van Dam attempted to make pallets out of coconut shells in the Philippines, but unfortunately, he did not succeed.
"Due to local circumstances, it failed. For example, there was not sufficient power supply," he explained.
Years later, Michiel Vos asked Van Dam for advice about alternatives to wood.
"I ended at Van Dam. 'Why don't you use coconut husk,' he asked? 'It contains the glue as well as the materials to glue together. And anywhere in Asia, it is found almost for free in the side of the road.' Stunned, I left his office with his final report under my arm," Vos said.
The technology was a perfect match for manufacturing pallets, especially in Asia.
"Asia produces more than a billion pallets every year. They require softwood, which does not grow in the tropics, thus it is imported from Canda, New Zealand or Eastern Europe on a large scale. Complete forests are being shipped to Asia to make pallets that are mainly used to ship products back to America or Europe. It is clearly a lot more efficient to make them in Asia with local materials," Vos said.
"CocoPallets have important advantages: they are stronger and lighter than the old-fashioned pallets, they are fire retardant, and thanks to an adjusted design, also easier to stack, so they take up less space. Above all, they are cheaper, and a lower price is always the best sales argument for a sustainable product," he added.