Coconut Challenge

There is one aspect of the waste stream – that really shouldn’t be considered waste at all – that isn’t accounted for in Bengaluru. It’s the coconut shell. Coconuts are a daily part of life here – whether it’s stopping for a drink of tender coconut or grating coconut for your dry subji. It may not be as ubiquitous as it is in Kerala, but it’s hard to escape it on any given day.

Historically, Indians have used every single part of the coconut tree: it’s one of the trees that’s known as kalpavriksha, a wish fulfilling tree or a giving tree (think Shel Silverstein’s brilliant children’s book). That’s because every single element of that tree has a value, has a use:

  • trunk: to make catamarans for fishermen
  • husk: to make ropes
  • leaves: for thatched roofs, baskets, containers
  • spine of leaves: to make brooms
  • shell: bowls

… and, of course, the fruit is for eating and drinking! Yum!

It’s the ultimate closed loop system that Indians have naturally followed for centuries. But now with the rapid urbanisation and Westernisation of Indian lifestyles, one can often find coconut pieces chucked aside, along with other pieces of refuse, often being burnt.

Unfortunately, even if you do want to make sure your coconut shells have a proper home so they can be properly reused and recycled, there is no system for collecting them. And even though it’s organic, it would take too long to compost.

Given that so much can be and is made of the coconut tree’s pieces, I think it’s time for us all to figure out a way to collect them and reuse them in a responsible way. A lot of farmers use them around their plants as a kind of mulch, which works really well. But how many trees can you do that with? I’ve tried to do that with the plants is my garden (see photos above), but I’m definitely at my limit. No more plants to cover.

Because there is so much money to be made off of coordinating the collection of and recycling of coconuts I want to challenge people to figure out a way to make it happen in urban India. Or I’d love to just hear about how other cities are dealing with it in a productive way.

Here are some articles for inspiration:

Coconuts and Sustainable Development: Adding Value to a Wasted Resource


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