A startup company, CocoPallet, says that they will be turning coconut husks into a reusable source to replace the traditionally used but rapidly becoming non-environmentally-friendly wood pallets.
The Dutch startup company places itself in a niche where they are aiming to provide a cost-effective solution within the freight transport industry through innovating how we use the coconut tree.
In the Philippines, one of the world’s largest exporter of coconuts, refer to the coconut tree as the “Tree of Life” because they find that every part of the tree can be repurposed. Similar to this idea, CocoPallet has produced an alternative to conventional wooden shipping pallets, by producing durable pallets made from coconut husks.
Annually, the world harvests an estimated 74 billion coconuts, where around 85% of the unwanted hairy husk is either being burned, thrown in the ocean, or piled up to create a giant biohazard.
Jan van Dam, a researcher at the Wageningen University who helped develop the product for CocoPallet, says that they can find means to turn the often thrown resource into something useful.
Inspired by a primitive Indonesian procedure that was practiced by only a handful, Van Dam figured that he could replicate the process and turn the olden product into what today’s society needs.
“It looked like a normal piece of hardboard,” says Van Dam when an Indonesian man presented him with the coconut product. “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.”
Van Dam who specialized in developing materials out of plant fibers was surprised. “Rock hard, wood-like board material from coconut husk? That was new to me,” he said.
Van Dam and his researchers later opened a pilot factory in the Philippines in 2005. However, their labor never bore fruit. “Due to local circumstances, it failed. For example, there was no sufficient power supply.”
The tide for the coconut-based freight pallet turned nine years ago when entrepreneur Michiel Vos met Van Dam. At the time, Vos was looking for a natural glue to use bamboo fiber to make an alternative to hardwood.
“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 on the side of the road’. Stunned, I left his office with his final report under my arm,” Vos told.
Years later, Vos has finally had a finished product, which gave birth to CocoPallet. They now call their revolutionary product a cost-effective, pest-repellent, water-resistant and biodegradable. In addition, they have created a way for coconut husks to be repurposed rather than just thrown away and their product now also serves as an additional revenue stream for coconut farmers.
To be specific, the startup produces biologically processed transportation pallets from coconut husk that are completely organic, greener, cheaper and more compact than wood or plastic pallets.
“We looked for improvements and came up with a technique where the ground up husk are pressed together at a high temperature.”
Every year 1.7 billion wooden pallets are being used to ship goods from Asia to the rest of the world. That means 170 million trees are cut down to make single-use, one-way export pallets for just that market alone.
Most of these trees are cut down from far away places like Canada and New Zealand because there is a shortage of timber in Southeast Asia.
In turn, they will be producing pallets, which will be used in Asian countries but this time, it will be produced from the same region of the world. This cuts the world demand for tree cutting and costs of manufacturing and sourcing them from other parts of the world.
Other than that, CocoPallet is also competitively priced — each CocoPallet is at least a dollar cheaper than the wooden varieties in current use.
At the end of the pallets’ life they can be milled down into mulch and used as an alternative to peat — ‘coco’ is a known high-quality natural soil improver.