Research estimate that 15.3 billion trees are cut down annually, mainly for manufacturing. Although wood is not essential for the manufacturing of goods, development of alternatives have been very slow. CocoPallet, a Dutch start-up, is manufacturing transport pallets changing that trend.
Their redesigned pallets are made with recycled coconut husks. The end product is 100% organic, durable, lighter and cheaper than wood. Even more exciting is the saving of an estimated 200 million trees being cut down yearly for manufacturing of traditional shipping pallets.
Originally developed by researchers at Wageningen University, the technology was commercialized by Michiel Vos, founder of CocoPallet.
More than twenty years earlier Jan Van Dam, a plant scientist at Wageningen University, then specialising in developing plant fibre materials, was shown something by an Indonesian man he had not seen before:
“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 told Dutch news source ‘de Volkskrant’.
Van Dam also explained that a recyclable product like this is needed, especially in places like Asia where coconut waste is abundant.
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 the 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 says.
Unfortunately, Van Dam’s attempt to make pallets out of coconut shells in the Philippines was not successful.
“Due to local circumstances, it failed. For example, there was no sufficient power supply,” Van Dam explains.
Years later, as luck would have it, 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 on 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, not only for manufacturing pallets, but doing so in Asia.
“Asia produces more than a billion pallets every year. They require softwood, which does not grow in the tropics, thus is imported from Canada, 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.
Innovation at its best. Recycling waste, producing a sustainable product and saving millions of trees. Way to go CocoPallets!