Making Car Parts With Coconuts & the Dangers of Eco-Tokens

Coconuts in the Trunk
Researchers from Baylor University have figured out a way to make trunk liners, floorboards, and car-door interior covers using using fibers from the outer husks of coconuts. Usually these are made from synthetic polyester fibers. This sounds like a (small) win, though we have some reservations. Read on for more.First, the Positives
Coconuts are abundant in countries near the equator, and more importantly, the husks are usually burned or thrown away. That's not necessarily bad in itself if "thrown away" means composted locally, but it can be bad if they end up in landfills or incinerators.

In fact, in some places it's even worse than that:

In Ghana, as one of Bradley's students told him, the discarded husks pile up in mounds, creating a health hazard because they collect water where malaria-causing mosquitoes can breed.

But if done right, displacing synthetic polyester fibers with coconut fibers that would otherwise be wasted certainly is a (small) step in the right direction.

Let's be Careful
The main problem with this is not with the technique itself, but with how it's generally marketed. Carmakers are very good at touting these small changes and blowing them all out of proportion. A gas guzzler with natural fiber interior has almost the same ecological footprint as one without it.

So the danger is that these small changes could convince the average buyer that they're doing the right thing by actually not changing very much. It can be a kind of red herring that makes it easier to avoid asking the real questions (Should I even have a car? Maybe car sharing would be good? Public transportation? Biking 3 days a week? Is a small vehicle enough to fill my needs? etc).

I know this is a tangent from coconuts, but this story is a very good opportunity to remind us to keep our eyes on the real goals and not settle for small eco-tokens.

Via LiveScience
Photo: Robert Wetzlmayr/Wikipedia, CC License.
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