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    Recycling Coconuts II: Need Anything Be Wasted?

    By Keith R | October 31, 2006

    Topics: Environmental Protection, Waste & Recycling | 11 Comments »

          
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    In Part I I looked at how some projects have sprung up in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) to convert those “empty” coconut husks discarded after agua de coco is served or bottled/packaged into useful products, such as flower pots, plant basket liners or “growing walls.” But the market potential for such products may be finite, and there are far, far more useful and economically-viable products one can get from recycling coconuts. Here I look at a few.

    If you came away from Part I thinking that the only products coconuts can be recycled into are flower pots, plant basket liners and growing walls, then you missed, skipped, ignored, overlooked or forgot the passage discussing the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation’s (Embrapa) examination of alternative uses. Go back and check — I’ll wait.

    coir seats for the Mercedes“Ahhhh yeeesss, the automobile seats!” you exclaim. Then it hits you that I also mentioned those in the “Husk Mountain” entry, didn’t I? Go to the head of the class!

    I’ll tackle the car seats in a second. But first permit me to state the one conclusion I have come to since looking into coconuts and their recycling and the one I hope you’ll carry with you once you finish this two-part look at the subject: coconuts may be one of those few products from which no waste need be generated. Most, if not all, of the coconut can be converted into useful and economically viable products or production inputs.

    Can the coconut product life cycle become a shining example of the zero-waste ideal? I don’t know enough yet about coconuts to say so, but they have potential, ladies and gentlemen, plenty of potential.

    a coco car seat made in MexicoWhat’s At Your Back?

    Perhaps the best-known example of LAC coir ending up being used in motor vehicles belongs to DaimlerChrysler’s Brazilian subsidiary [coir is the fiber that can be extracted from the coconut husk]. In 1992 — yes, you heard right, 14 years ago — Daimler-Benz do Brasil joined forces with UNICEF and the Federal University of Pará’s (UFPA) Poverty and Environment in Amazônia (Pobreza e Meio Ambiente na Amazônia – POEMA) program in Belém (Pará’s capital) to find ways to use natural fibers, resins and latex in vehicle parts.* The project started with making truck (lorry) headrests made of coir and natural latex on the island of Marajó. Now POEMA’s incorporated successor, Poematec, provides coir-filled seats, headrests and sun visors for all the Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles and Class A cars manufactured in Brazil, replacing plastics and foams such as polyurethane.

    DaimlerChrysler do Brasil is justly proud of the program, and if you read Portuguese or don’t mind the rough translation using Google or Altavista translation, check out their take on the program and their emphasis on recyclable parts.

    A pile of coir extracted from used coconuts
    Photo courtesy of Coco Verde

    Since the European Union (EU) adopted its “end-of-life vehicle” (ELV) Directive in 2000 requiring more auto parts to be recyclable, other automotive manufacturers have taken an interest in doing likewise, and both Brazilian and Mexican manufacturers of coir products are seeking to capitalize on this.

    The Incredibly Versatile Coir

    In Part I you were introduced to garden products (pots, “growing walls,” creeper poles, etc.) made with coir from recycled coconuts, and just now, automobile seats, visors and headrests made with coir. But that just scratches the surface of what can be done with the coir extracted from used coconuts! For example:

    Other Coco Products

    In Part I I discussed how the consumption of agua de coco generates a lot of waste coconuts. That’s not the only food product from coconuts that results in recyclable waste. The cuisine of many, if not most, LAC nations features some coconut ingredient, whether dessicated (dried) coconut (what some call coconut flakes), coconut cream (leche de coco or leite de coco) or coconut oil. Ever had Jamaican “rundown” or gizzada, or Mexican coconut ice cream, or coconut flan, or the Dominican moro de grandules, pescado con coco, cocadas, conconete, arepas, or Brazilian quindins?

    Think about how much coconut waste could be generated in bringing those foods to you. But they needn’t be, since more than just the coir can be recovered to make other products. A few examples:

    Then there is the possibility of coconut waste as a biofuel. Coconut oil can be used as a straight vegetable oil (SVO) fuel — some experts, in fact, advocate using coconuts as a biofuel source over others (such as corn or rapeseed) because of their high oil yield per hectacre ratio. Or, as Embrapa proposes (see Part I), using the liquid residues from processing waste coconuts to generate electricity.

    Ecopop: Máscaras de coco
    feitas por Oséas

    And When All Else Fails…

    You can always use coconut shells for artesanal productions — unusual craft pieces such as the “coconut masks” featured in my favorite website on ecological projects among Brazil’s poor, Ecopop (see photo). Embrapa and the university it is working with in the context of the Fortaleza project are trying to work with local artisans to develop “coco crafts.” I have to wonder — why can’t all tourism spots in LAC nations follow suit?

    — Keith R

    * Daimler-Benz is an interesting case study in using recycling of natural fibers to produce auto parts. For example, they also recycle used South American coffee sacks to combine their sisal with flax to make interior trim and acoustic insulation for their cars.

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    11 Responses to “Recycling Coconuts II: Need Anything Be Wasted?”

    1. Felipe Says:

      Boa matéria, mas a maioria dos exemplos foram dados com sub-produtos do coco maduro e o grande problema é o resíduo do coco verde.
      A diferença entre um coco verde e um coco maduro é a mesma que uma maça e uma laranja e no geral as pessoas acabam confundindo.

      Coco verde após consumo é lixo, já o coco maduro é no mínimo biomassa . Já existem projetos na Ásia, México, etc a décadas, aproveitando na sua totalidade.
      No caso de bancos de carros já é utilizado em outros países a mais de 30 anos.

      Coco verde é uma particularidade do Brasil (volume).

      Felipe, muito obrigado pelo comentário. Tem razão, eu tinha que distinguir entre o coco verde e o coco maduro no artigo.
      Atenciosamente, Keith

    2. shankar Says:

      i got much info from ur site…I am a student and my father is a business man and i need to know more about the geo textile forms that we take from coconut…. can u plz help me…
      thank u….
      regards
      Shankar

    3. Rick Fletcher Says:

      Our company, Florida Potting Soils, Inc., uses more than 1000 metric tons of “coco peat” compressed bricks from Sri Lanka annually. We are looking for a reliable source in Mexico. Please advise if you can be of assistance. Thank you.

    4. Edison Williams Says:

      There is a B2B portal for the coir industry with a retail section for buying coir coming up. Its called CoirWorld.com

    5. Keith R Says:

      Edison, thanks for the heads-up on CoirWorld. I took a quick look at it. While mostly dominated by Asian (primarily Indian) sellers, I did find a couple of Mexican and Brazilian (including Coco Verde) listings.
      Regards,
      Keith

    6. Radhakrishnan Says:

      Rick

      I can be of help to you since I live in Kerala, India the land of coconut trees. Inform the specifications.

      Radha Krishnan

    7. Guillermo Rentería Says:

      Rick, We are a mexican coco peat and fiber producer, we are located center pacific coast of mexico. We are interesting to contact you. We produce up to 100 MT of coir peat monthly.

    8. Frank J. Chavez Says:

      Hello Rick and everybody else that are looking for Mexican coir: our company AgroCoco has been in business since early 1980’s and servicing the USA and Canada market since 1994, we are proud to say that we are the only company that process the coconut husk for the only purpose of creating the highest quality substrates in the market, our product is NOT a bi-product or waste from fiber. We specialize in substrates created various grades from germination mixes to hydroponics and everything in between. We do not submerge the husk in water nor expose the husk to salt water, our process is on line, this means from the time we receive the husk at our warehouse and start the process coir will not touch the ground till is package and palletaze.

    9. Emiliano Galigani Says:

      Hi there. La mundial de coco is a Dominican Republic based industry involved in the production of coco peat and coco fibers. Please visit our website or contact us if you need further more assitance.
      Regards,
      Emiliano.

    10. Keith R Says:

      Hmmm, what started out in my recycling coconut series as information exchange seems to have become everybody’s attempt at free advertising. I am going to disable the links in these comments. Until now, I have refrained from putting ads (banners, text links, Adsense, etc.) on The Temas Blog, but perhaps I should reassess that, starting with you guys in coir products. Anyone interested in advertising on The Temas Blog at reasonable rates?

    11. Jimmy Stewart Says:

      I am looking for coconut pillow bbq bricks made in the Dominican Republic. Have been searching for some time seems like with all the coconut trees someone would be making them. Can not find one. Help appreciated.
      Thanks
      Jimmy

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