Fire & Termite-Resistant Pallets From Coconut Husk That Save 200 Million Trees A Year

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In the tropical landscape of peninsular India, coconut trees form a vital resource in everyday life. From extensive culinary use to generating a wide range of household items as by-products, coconut is virtually indispensable in Southern India.

Consequently, a heap of coconut husks and shells on the roadside – blocking the drainage system, packing up the landfills, or polluting the air when burnt – is not a very rare sight. This is the ugly part of the story. Although biodegradable, coconut husks end up as useless, despite having a horde of potential uses unknown to the urban population. Even in rural areas, coconut residues are finding lesser and lesser usage as fuel or otherwise, courtesy the switch to modernised lifestyle. While India is yet to identify and address this problem, a company in Amsterdam has found a perfect sustainable solution, worthy of replication in coconut-rich nations of South-East Asia. Dutch start-up CocoPallet produces biologically processed transportation pallets from coconut husk. Not only are these 100% organic, greener, cheaper and more compact than wood or plastic pallets, but they are also indirectly preventing the felling of around 200 million trees per year in the Netherlands. Founder Michiel Vos has improvised on the technology originally developed by Wageningen University researchers and created a world-class product with equal finesse and sturdiness, that is boosting a circular economy.

85% of the coconut husks go to waste

An ancient Indonesian technique

The idea of CocoPallet actually has its root in a primitive Indonesian procedure, practised by only a handful. Jan Van Dam, a plant-fibre scientist at Wageningen University chanced upon this superb technology when a man from Indonesia presented a prototype coconut pallet to him. “Rock hard, wood-like board material from coconut husk? That was new to me,” he shared with Dutch daily ‘de Volkskrant’. Traditionally made from shredded coconut husk processed in steam, the almost forgotten technique was revived by Jan Van Dam and his team in a modern set up.

“We looked for improvements and came up with a technique where the ground up husk is pressed together at a high temperature,” Van Dam explains. The natural lignin in the coir melts and forms the binding material, making it resistant to termites – which is a major problem with wood.

Soon afterwards, he launched a pilot project in the Philippines, which failed for a number of local reasons. The revolutionary technology would have faded into oblivion once again had Michiel Vos not met with Jan Van Dam. “Why don’t you use coconut husk, he asked?…. And anywhere in Asia, it is found almost for free on the side of the road,” recalls Vos about his interaction with Van Dam.

Coconut has a wide variety of uses

Advantages of CocoPallets

Michiel Vos wasted no time in amplifying the idea into a successful business model and the benefits slowly unfolded over the years. Rarely one comes across a sustainable product with all prominent pros and no cons, but CocoPallet can be called one such product, both environmentally and economically. Made entirely from discarded coconut husk in Asian countries, it negates the use of any toxic and expensive pesticide treatment for the trees like methyl bromide fumigation. Estimates show that they are using almost around 50% of coconut waste.

Thanks to the natural binder lignin, there is no need for any synthetic resins as used in wood pallets. The product is as strong as wood or plastic pallets, supporting a load of up to 3000 kgs. The worn out pallet can be ground into biomass and used as a green fertiliser for agriculture. That is how CocoPallet is supporting a circular economy in itself, asserts founder Vos. 

One CocoPallet can support up to 3000 kgs

Saving trees & cutting costs

“Asia produces more than a billion pallets every year. They require softwood, which does not grow in the tropics, thus, it is imported from Canada, New Zealand or Eastern Europe on a large scale,” Vos shares with de Volkskrant. This is synonymous to exporting entire forests (200 million trees per year for 1.7 billion wood pallets) to Asia, incurring an enormous freight cost.

CocoPallet is producing the pallets in Sumatra, Indonesia from local plantations, eliminating the whole burden of transport cost. Already popular among Asian exporters, the company is also creating extra income for local farmers.

CocoPeople at work

Global organisations like Accenture and Bloomberg have duly recognised and awarded the innovation. The founder hopes to expand his business further to rid other Asian countries of their coconut waste, in the most eco-friendly way possible.

Also Read: Toilets That Make Gardens From Humanure: An Eco-Friendly Future Can Come From Your Toilet

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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