Circular economy products and services need to be price-competitive with less or non-sustainable products if they are to tip the market in their favour.
This was the message of Climate-KIC-backed start-up CocoPallet, a growing Dutch company that offers a sustainable alternative to existing wood and plastic pallets, and one of the speakers at the World Circular Economy Forum this week (5-7 June).
In a session on innovation in the bio-economy, hosted by Climate-KIC and the OECD, CocoPallet founder Michiel Vos told an audience of business, entrepreneurs, academia, and policy makers: “Creating circular products and services that are both scalable and affordable is the biggest driver of a circular economy. Companies won’t pay a premium for green. You have to make your product or service competitive with less or non-sustainable. And for a competitive price you need volume. That’s why it’s important to address a problem large enough so you can scale.”
Vos discussed how CocoPallet, which makes nestable pallets from the coconut husk using only natural binders, developed a proprietary manufacturing process to ensure cost competitive production. Each CocoPallet comprises 60 to 70 compressed coconut husks to create a transportation pallet that is cheaper, slimmer, and as strong as a wooden one. CocoPallets can handle up to 3000Kg static load and 1500Kg dynamic load. The company is now projecting an annual production volume of 5 million pallets in 2018, helping make the pallet a viable, cost-effective and green alternative.
Vos also discussed factors important in developing innovation that support a circular and sustainable bio-economy, including considering the full lifecycle of the product. CocoPallet, for example, can be shredded after use and composted as soil enhancer. Retaining a pure biomass source and avoiding synthetic resins has been important achieving this circularity, according to Vos.
“You lose circular potential and ease when you start mixing with synthetic materials. We were told it couldn’t be done, but we refused to add anything else other than coconuts,” said Vos.
A major focus for the sustainable bio-economy is on the processing, upgrading and valourisation of biological raw materials often considered waste, as well as on establishing new value chains. With the coconut husk the main resource input for the CocoPallet — the part of the coconut typically considered “waste” and burnt – the company exemplifies what can be achieved.
The importance of the farmer
Vos added: “Understanding every part of the value chain in the bio-economy — what’s happening, the risks and why — is really important. But most importantly, it’s about farmers. Without the farmer we have nothing. Ensuring revenue streams and good conditions for the farmer, that’s the front part of our project.”
CocoPallet presented at the session, “New Innovation Ecosystems and Circular Solutions to Boost the Bio-economy“, hosted by Climate-KIC and the OECD, at the World Circular Economy Forum in Finland.
- Coconut trees can grow in almost any kind of soil. They are mostly found in coastal areas and are extremely resilient
- Around 70 billion coconuts are harvested annually, according to the FAO
- Around 15 per cent of the global coconut harvest waste stream is currently used for items such as brushes and flooring, leaving a considerable resource stream available for other applications such as CocoPallet.
- The nestable CocoPallet saves around 60-70 per cent of space when not being used, compared to ordinary pallets
- There is no need for heat treatment or chemical treatment (fumigation with methyl bromide) to kill pests
- The CocoPallet is fully (ISPM15) compliant with international regulations, and CocoPallets are free of nails and synthetic components
- CocoPallet was the 2016 winner of the Accenture Innovation Award in the Seamless Travel and Transportation category