Coconuts Could Be the Next Sustainable Packaging Trend

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oconut husks are designed by nature to protect their perishable copra, that tasty meat and milk we all know and love, making them a perfect solution for food packaging. Photo: Flickr/bionicteaching

We all know the coconut as a tropical staple. Beautiful palm trees decorate our favorite vacation spots and provide the main ingredient for luscious lotions and tasty cocktails, but new innovations may bring the coconut to some more unlikely places.

The strength, low water-absorption and durability of the coir, or coconut husk, make it a perfect candidate for eco-friendly packing material, and green businesses like Whole Tree, Inc. are bringing coconuts off the island and into good use.

This readily-available resource can be found as far north as Norway, and is already harvested to produce coconut oils and juices. The coir, which would ordinarily be disposed of, can be easily processed to produce materials sturdy enough for packing or building.

These under-utilized husks are strong enough to perform better than most conventional materials in categories such as density, water-absorption and swelling without the addition of chemical binders. No chemical additives mean this rad packing alternative is safe for your compost pile after use.

Whole Tree, a green materials corp founded by researchers at Baylor University, is developing commercially available coconut composites that can be easily applied to a variety of purposes, from restaurant to-go boxes to green moving solutions.

These non-woven composites can contain up to 80 percent coconut fiber and serve as a seamless alternative for petroleum-based synthetic materials, and they have become a hit with packing design companies.

Austin-based packing company, Compadre, has recently partnered with Whole Tree, and is currently making these coconut composites available to its international corporate customers.

This eco-innovation is not only helpful to the planet; it is also giving a revenue boost to struggling coconut farmers around the globe.

The Asian Pacific Coconut Community (APCC), an intergovernmental organization representing coconut producers in the region, observed that only 10 percent of the husk is currently being used for fiber extraction around the world, a surprisingly low statistic that is greatly threatening to farmers’ livelihoods.

In response to this surprisingly low demand for coir, APCC is taking steps to raise awareness of its many uses. In addition to green packing, the coir can be used for carpeting, furniture and gardening products.

Just think. Soon enough we may not need to put our leftovers in a petroleum-based container, potentially decreasing global dependency on petroleum by millions of barrels of oil per year. Now that sounds like paradise.

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Mary Mazzoni

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  1. I will cherish the day when I no longer own a garbage can, because nothing is any longer designed to be thrown out.
    the idea of throwing things out should have died with our ancestors. my garbage load is rather tiny each week but Id rather pay the monthly fee than use the stinking burn barrel.

  2. Interesting article, and a promising set of options for coir. The article is flawed by a couple of errors, however. The coconut in the accompanying picture is freed of all coir! Someone who hasn’t ever seen coconuts that haven’t had the coir removed (probably most readers) might easily think that it refers to the hard shell, which also protects the ‘meat’ and milk. And they are not called copra; that’s the dried meat, sold not to be eaten but as a source of the oil, unsuitable for use as a cooking oil (too hydrogenated). As one who grew up in Florida and often struggled, as a kid with a hatchet, to get the nut out of what we called the husk, I’m happy to learn its proper name and that uses have been found for it.

  3. I’m all for this idea in principle, but it does bring up a concern for people with coconut allergies. I would hope this is being taken under consideration, especially for restaurant to-go packaging. As a mother of a child with food allergies, I am constantly checking labels – I would hate to see someone have a reaction to the box the allergen-free food came in!

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