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COIR NATURAL FIBER

Coir natural fiber (pronounced COY-er) is familiar to most of us as the material used to construct coarse, wiry outside doormats as well as the coarse fiber liners found in hanging flower baskets.

Coir Door MatCoir Door Mat
Hanging Planter with Coir LinerHanging Planter with Coir Liner
Coir Plant LinersCoir Plant Liners

The fiber originates as part of the common grocery store coconut. Each coconut is actually the single seed of a fruit of the coconut palm tree.

The coir fiber is retrieved from a layer of fibrous pulp that can be found under the external leathery skin. This pulp is stripped from the seed of the coconut palm before it is sent to market. In some countries, coir fiber is named ‘coprah.’

THE COCONUT PALM TREE

Coconut Palm TreeCoconut Palm Tree

Coconut Palm trees flower monthly and it takes a year for each resulting fruit to ripen. Therefore, one tree always contains fruits at 12 stages of maturity. The fruits are harvested approximately every 45-60 days. They can be picked up off the ground if they have ripened and fallen or climbers may pick the fruit still on the tree.

In some areas, monkeys are taught to climb the trees and help with the harvest of the coconuts. Each tree can yield 50 to 100 coconuts a year.

The fruit of the coconut palm is exceptionally hardy. The tree itself is very useful, providing not only food and fibers, but drink, fuel, and building materials.

Coconut palms abound in the tropical regions of the world, although commercially produced coir comes mostly from India and Sri Lanka. Coconut palms originated in Southeast Asia and are grown in more than 93 countries in the world today. They are one of the oldest plant families and have been cultivated for around 4,000 years.

In Micronesia and Polynesia, coir was called sennit and sennit roping was the main way to connect pieces in the construction of boats, weapons, buildings, and tools until the introduction of iron nails from European explorers in the late 18th century.

Today, coir is also economically important in Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Mexico, and the Ivory Coast among others.

PROCESSING COCONUTS INTO
COIR NATURAL FIBER

CoconutCoconut

Ripe coconuts are husked immediately. Unripe coconuts are often seasoned for a month. They are spread out on the ground in a single layer to keep them dry.

If manual labor is used, in order to remove the coir fiber, the coconut will be placed on a steel spike to split the husk and then the pulp layer can be easily peeled off. If modern husking machines are used, they can split and peel about 2000 coconuts per hour!

There are 3 processing steps:

  • Retting is the curing process.
  • Defibering involves separating the fibers from the pith and the outer skin.
  • Finishing follows last in the process of producing coir natural fiber.

Depending on the type of fiber to be processed, the curing or retting stage of coir natural fiber production results in significant water pollution, though research has begun to find ways to treat this problem.

TYPES OF COIR NATURAL FIBER

BROWN COIR

If the fibers are extracted from fully ripened coconuts, they yield brown coir, which is strong and highly resistant to abrasion. This dark brown coir is the one used mostly in floor mats, brushes, sacks, and upholstery padding. Fresh water is used to process brown coir. It is stronger than flax and cotton but not as flexible because it contains more lignin and less cellulose. It is unsuitable for dyeing as well.

Coir Bristle BrushCoir Bristle Brush

WHITE COIR

If the fiber is extracted from the husks of coconuts shortly before they ripen, it is light brown or white in color, is softer and finer, but is not as strong as the brown coir. This type of coir is usually spun into yarn and woven into floor mats or twisted into rope or twine. Sea water and fresh water are both used to process white coir.

Coir TwineCoir Twine

Fiber length is also important in coir natural fiber processing. Both the brown and white types of coir fibers range in length from 4 to 12 inches. Bristle fibers must be at least 8 inches long. Mattress fibers, which are finer in texture, are the shorter fibers. A 10 oz. coconut yields about 1/3 bristle fiber and 2/3 mattress fiber.

ADVANTAGES OF
COIR NATURAL FIBER

  • It is resistant to salt water and it doesn’t sink. Thus, it is used to make fishing nets and marine ropes.
  • It is very strong and nearly impervious to the weather. An important end product is agricultural twine, such as used by hops growers in the US to tie their vines to support poles, as well as in the construction of those familiar outdoor doormats.  
Coir TwineCoir Twine
  • It is very durable with the ability to hold water, as well as the fact it is biodegradable, makes it important in the production of geotextiles. These are covers for bare soil laid down to control erosion and to promote the growth of protective ground covers. Their hairy texture helps hold the seeds and soil. It can provide good soil support for up to 3 years. These geotextiles resist sunlight, facilitate seed germination, and are 100% bio-degradable with a slow rate of degradation, allowing them to last for several years on the ground.
Coir GeotextileCoir Geotextile
Coir GeotextileCoir Geotextile
  • It is used as a substitute for processed synthetic rubber in the upholstery industry and is also often combined with natural rubber for filling upholstery.
  • It is used for insulation in panels and cold storage.
  • Coir Ply is a new product used as a substitute or alternative to plywood. It has a high degree of surface abrasion resistance and resists contraction and expansion due to variations in temperatures.

DISADVANTAGES OF
COIR NATURAL FIBER

  • Coir is an allergen. It is often infused with latex or other allergenic materials during its treatment.

  • The waste material from the processing of coconuts to coir is called coir dust or pith. It makes up about 2/3 of the coconut pulp while the coir fibers account for approximately 1/3. It takes the coir dust 20 years to decompose. Piles consisting of millions of tons used to sit in India and Sri Lanka.

COCO PEAT

Fortunately, in the 1980s processes were developed to make the waste material of coir processing  (dust/pith) into a growth medium called coco peat, now used as an alternative to other materials like peat moss and vermiculite.

Coco PeatCoco Peat

ADVANTAGES OF USING COCO PEAT
FOR HORTICULTURE & AGRICULTURE

  • It improves the air porosity of soils.
  • It absorbs 30% more water than peat.
  • It helps to loosen the texture of clay soil and improve drainage and it allows sandy soil to hold onto water longer.
  • Its high lignin content increases its resistance to bacteria and disease.
  • It is resistant to other pathogens in the soil.
  • Peat Moss is acidic while most coir has a more neutral pH.
  • Coco peat has good absorbent qualities and is a good oil absorbent for slippery floors. It is also used as a bedding in animal farms to absorb animal waste.
  • Coir is more sustainable than peat.
  • Peat moss use in horticulture has resulted in the deletion of natural bogs or swamps, an essential part of the wildlife ecosystem. (There are actually a number of highly adapted plant and animal species found only in peat bogs).
  • Coir chips/chunks are also being produced and used to provide structure and improve the air porosity of a growing medium. They are specific size pieces of the coconut husk.
  •  ‘Treated Coir’ is available from reputable manufacturers. The coir pith will be stored or composted for 6 months to ensure there is no contamination from weeds and potential human pathogens.

DISADVANTAGES
OF USING COCO PEAT

There are some downsides to using coco peat as a replacement for traditional peat as a soil conditioner for plant cultivation:

  • Coco peat does not have enough nutrients in itself to be the only component for this usage.
  • The source of the coco peat is also important to know. Some supplies have too much potassium. Some of it may not be fully decomposed and will use up the nitrogen the plants need.
  • The chemical properties of the coco peat can be affected by the conditions of the cultivation of the coconut palm as well as the many different ways cocoa peat is processed. Adjustments in watering practices and fertilizer application rates may have to be adjusted.
  • When used in agriculture and horticulture, it can become heavily contaminated with pathogenic fungi.
  • Coco peat has a tendency to attract fungus gnats that lay eggs and multiply.
  • It does tend to compact.
  • While it retains water, there is a chance of a buildup of high sodium levels. This can prevent the uptake of nutrients such as calcium.
  • It is more expensive than peat.
  • It is rich in potassium and a few micro nutrients, but not much else.

THE MANY END PRODUCTS OF
COIR NATURAL FIBER

Some examples of the end product uses for coir:

  • Brooms
  • Brushes
  • Door mats
  • Fishing Nets
  • Floor mats
  • Growing medium in greenhouse horticulture
  • Insulation
  • Mattresses
  • Mushroom Growing
  • Packaging
  • Rope
  • Sphagnum (Peat Moss Substitute)
  • Terrarium substrate for reptiles or arachnids
  • Upholstery padding for the auto industry in Europe

ADVANTAGES OF
COIR OUTDOOR MATS

Closeup of Coir Natural Fiber MatCloseup of Coir Natural Fiber Mat
Coir Outdoor MatCoir Outdoor Mat
  • They dry quickly so mildew doesn’t have a chance to form.
  • They clean dirt and moisture from shoes.

  • The coarse coir fibers resist against dirt particles and react well to a mild soap so they clean up easily.
  • They are water resistant.
  • They are salt resistant and thus give protection against salt during winter months.
  • Coir outdoor mats do not generate static electricity.

NOTE: Beware of thin coir outdoor mats that can be slippery. Sometimes a vinyl or rubber backing will be added and water from wet shoes can become trapped by the backing.

THE FUTURE OF
COIR NATURAL FIBER PROCESSING AND
COCO PEAT

Many of the developing coconut growing countries do not possess knowledge of the technology available to utilize the entire coconut husk for commercial purposes. Thus, production is usually scattered and in small volumes.

Today there are organizations attempting to promote best practices in coir processing to increase quantity and higher quality as well as to provide improvements in working conditions. The end result is expected to be higher profits and better income. Ultimately, this will help to reduce poverty and and will also provide environmental benefits from the commercial use of the coco dust/pith/ peat waste product.


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