A lot of people think of coconut coir as trash or as fuel to kindle flame for cooking. But can it generate more value for this palm dubbed as the “Tree of Life”?
Coconut coir, also called as coconut fibre, is a stiff, coarse natural fibre, a flexible natural yarn that is extracted from the outer husk of the coconut manually or through machines.
Coconut coir also has various grades available such as brown fibre, white fibre, bristle coir, and buffering coir. Brown fibre harvested from fully ripened coconuts is thick, strong and has high abrasion resistance. Mature brown fibre fibres contain more lignin and less cellulose than fibres such as flax and cotton, so are stronger but less flexible. White coir fibres harvested from coconuts before they are ripe; are white or light brown in colour and are smoother and finer, but also weaker. Fresh water is used to process brown fibre, while seawater and fresh water are both used in the production of white fibre. Each of these grades has different processes in order to achieve the desired material needed for production which can take up to 10 months.
There are several uses and applications that most people don’t know about the coconut coir. It is widely used as a raw material for many industries and the most common usage of the coconut coir, which is also the easiest to do, is when it is burned into ashes to be used as fertilizers for plants. The hydroponic industry values Coco coir because of its amazing capacity to hold water; plus air even when moisture saturated. As waste product from being a hydroponic medium, it can still be converted into valuable resource by mixing it with ordinary soil which can be used as versatile growing medium that could benefit plant growers since the coir loosens the soil and more oxygen can seep in. The coconut coir’s water retention quality helps the soil retain nutrients against leaching therefore it can be used as an alternative to mined peat moss for potted plants. This water holding quality has also been used to create irrigation system for the sustainability of the agriculture industry.
Nowadays, Coconut coir has been made into logs which have different earth based stabilization applications. This coconut coir log is widely used for soil and earth related applications as it has a high tensile strength to protect very steep surface or shorelines from soil erosion.
Also, it acts as wick (absorbs liquid) in the soil mantle and mulch on the surface. Recently, there has been an ongoing development of producing concrete by use of coconut coir based fiber which is less expensive. In comparison with other type of concrete, coconut fiber-reinforced concrete is also strong and ideal for heavy duty use.
Coconut coir’s use has become extensive over the years. It has expanded to more industries which include the transport, automobile, and furniture industries. It is a much used material in the transport industry since it has the property of temperature management and is also an excellent shock absorber beneficial for long distance transport of goods. Aside from that, automobile industry also can benefit from this material since high grade/quality of coconut coir is used to create vehicle seats and railway seats. The coconut coir also is mixed with rubber latex to create rubberized coir in order to manufacture upholster padding for the automobiles and other furniture. For the furniture industry, bristles of coconut coir are widely used to create mattresses for household purposes.
Other simple products created out of the coconut coir can be found in our homes such as yarns, ropes, aquarium filters, brushes, brooms, and door/floor mats. Ropes made out of this material are really tough since they are relatively waterproof and is one of the few natural fibres resistant to damage by sea water which is why it is widely used in boats and fishing nets.
With all of these uses and applications mentioned, concerns about environmental issues will always be raised by the people who are environmentally concerned but there’s nothing to fear about since coconut coir is an eco-friendly material. Coconut coir may take at least 20 years to decompose, but the decomposing process of coconut coir is not harmful to the environment.
Coco coir should be seen with importance and of great value. If only people could see the positive side of it aside from being trash, people could do more and create more products with this incredible and indigenous resource. (Ruth Rachelle Go)