how green is it?
the tale of coconut coir

Coir bundles

Coir is the not-so-new word seen in everything from welcome mats to garden twine and planting medium and it’s being lauded for its sustainability and remarkable properties. But what is it really? And just how sustainable is it? And by the way, how do you pronounce it?

The easy stuff first: Coir, most commonly pronounced like coy-er, is the fibrous material found between the hard, internal shell and the outer coat of a coconut. So much for the easy stuff. 

As for sustainability? It depends. Coconut palms are an integral part of life in countries where they are grown as crops; no part of the plant is wasted. The leaves are used to thatch roofs, the trunks are an affordable source of timber, the water of the fruit is a readily available thirst quencher and the fruit itself is used as food. Then there are the fibrous husks that we now know as coir.

So long as a plantation is running on sustainable principles and working under fair trade guidelines, coconut is an incredibly sustainable and renewable resource that’s good for all involved.

There are two varieties of coir, brown and white. Brown coir is harvested from ripe coconuts and is typically used in upholstery padding, sacking, horticulture, mats, and brushes. It is thick, strong and has high abrasion resistance. White coir is harvested from the unripe coconut and is more often made into rope and cordage as well as finer brushes and fishing nets.

Coir is highly water resistant and stands up well to salt water; in fact, coir was a common material used for ship ropes and rigging. coconut

To process brown coir, fibrous husks are soaked in slow-moving water to swell and soften them. The long bristle fibers are separated from the shorter mattress fibers in a process known as wet milling. Mattress fibers are sifted to remove dirt and debris, dried in the sun, and compressed into bales. Some mattress fibers are left moist to retain the elasticity needed for twisted-fiber production. Longer bristle fibers are washed and dried before being tied into bundles for use.

For white coir, the husks are suspended in water for up to 10 months, allowing micro-organisms to break down the plant tissues. The husks are beaten by hand to separate the long fibers, which are dried and cleaned before spinning into yarn.

Coir fibers make up about a third of the coconut pulp; the rest – called the pith or dust – is biodegradable and is now being used as mulch, soil treatment, and hydroponic growth medium.

The bottom line, coir is a truly sustainable option that’s ideally suited for creating attractive, outdoor-worthy rugs and welcome mats, as well as baskets and other woven home décor products.

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