Gallery: Natural Packaging: The Coconut Husk Solves Shipping Problems!


Today we’re thrilled to kick off a brand new series that explores a greener future for packaging design, brought to you by Eco Chick founder and green journalist Starre Vartan!

Each year households in the U.S. send over 270 million tons of trash to the landfill, and much of this waste comes from packaging. This is a glaring problem, which is why each week we’ll be exploring how to make packaging greener and cleaner, by examining natural models for packaging, new innovations in packaging design, and ways in which we can improve how packaging is created and used. Read on for our first installation, and stay tuned for this new series every Thursday on Inhabitat!

The Coconut – Nature’s Best Packaging Design

The humble and tropically ubiquitous coconut, besides producing one of the tastiest cocktail starters out there (mmmm…..piña coladas!), is one the best package design solutions for a perishable food item ever designed by nature. Not only do coconuts survive falling from heights of 50 feet to the ground (landing on anything from cushy golf courses to lava rock), but they often travel thousands of miles via ocean waves, still perfectly protected. Viable Caribbean coconuts, which are the seeds of the Coconut palm, have been found as far north as Norway, which is why the tree has propagated so successfully from 26 latitude North to 26 degrees latitude South.

Photo by Renégat

The waterproof, super tough coco-container is impervious to hard knocks, salt and heat, and it keeps its electrolyte-rich interior water fresh and coconut meat cargo protected and ready-to-consume (or take root and grow). All of this in a totally biodegradable package produced with free energy from the sun, water and (sometimes minimal) locally available soil nutrients.

This is just one example of a packaging ‘problem’ that nature has solved so well, while we have…plastic, which is made from nonrenewable petroleum products, pollutes air and water when it’s made (including our food supply ), takes thousands (and thousands) of years to degrade, and then just ends up breaking into bits, not actually breaking down. Plastic even pollutes when it’s recycled! (Though yes, it’s still better to throw it in the blue bin than in the trash).

And with the news filled with reports of birds’ stomachs packed full of with-us-forever plastics and a Texas-sized garbage gyre choking the Pacific (actually it turns out there are 5 such state-sized patches of ocean filled with our trash), it seems like the time to find better packaging solutions was yesterday. Or maybe around the same time Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate was told the future was in plastics. Unfortunately for us – and our environment – it was.

While it’s great to make cool stuff from discarded water bottles, we need better packaging solutions, and we need them now. Something more than using coconut shells for candle-holders or cute bowls for sorbet.

Look for these innovative and almost-as-smart as nature packaging solutions coming up in this space. Because we need to put our stuff in better stuff.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick and author of The Eco-Chick Guide to Life (St. Martin’s Press). A green living expert, she contributes to The Huffington Post and Mother Nature Network (


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  1. Jorge Valensuela October 16, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    There is a lot we can learn about packaging from the coconut. There is currently a lot of non-degradable waste that goes into packaging. We should be looking for more sustainable ways to package our goods.
    Jorge |!contact/c1w88

  2. cabangn February 21, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    I am so happy someone has actually thought of this. i have been thinking about this for a long time. God has given us everything in this world to solve any problems we create for ourselves. It is just a matter of looking all around us and appreciating Nature. We have to start respecting it. Otherwise, it will make us pay it back someday. And that someday might be a little too late. By that time, our problem may be worse that it already is.

  3. Packaging the Future: F... November 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    […] explored how nature solves the packaging problems of strength, buoyancy and moisture-retention (coconut shells), tough-but-flexible protection (wombat butts) and light tensile strength (ant exoskeletons). Now […]

  4. EKK July 27, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    I love this new feature. We have got to find a way to stop using so much plastic. Of course, as long as use is regulated, it seems nature has provided us with the perfect packaging with the coconut. I work on the Isla Palenque project, a sustainable resort on a Panamanian island. We have so many coconut groves on the island, we should definitely find ways to reuse the shells for packaging or harvest them in our organic farm for someone that can. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. jac2169 July 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I strongly agree with mothergrace, research is key, finding a way to use any resource in a balanced way so that we don’t abuse it is critical for it to become a solution. I work for a green moving company in Los Angeles, CA (NorhtStar Moving) and its amazing how something as simple as using popped popcorn instead of bubble wrap or recycled white packing paper instead of newspaper can make a difference on your carbon footprint. Consider for yourself when packing for moving day to choose a green moving company or ask them for tips! we are happy to help.

  6. horrie July 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    coconut milk was used as an iv fluid in W.W.2. also the sheii is the main feedstock for activated carbon used in water and air purification. one of the most useful things on the planet.

  7. mothergrace July 25, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    While I am completely against all the plastic we use, I hesitate to wholeheartedly endorse new solutions unless all aspects are investigated. In this case, I would want to know if coconut shells were to become popular, would it be a sustainable source for packaging? No sense trading one bad idea for another. Of course, coconut shells could be part of the solution.

  8. DaddyOH July 23, 2010 at 3:03 am

    Pineapples also. So you can drink pina coladas without a qualm.

    Citrus fruit, bananas and any food with a mostly non consumable outer casing also qualify.

    Then there are the ideal packaging solutions- you can consume the packaging! Like most fresh fish, grapes and potatoes.

    Less than ideal but usefull packaging would be helpfull for everyone. Packaging that you can reuse to store the item you bought rather than throw out. All it takes are manufacturer’s few nurons concentrating on solving the problem rather than what model car they are going to buy next.

  9. ines p July 22, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Very interesting information, but I cannot keep thinking about that piña coladas you’ve mentioned :).

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