​The coconut man

Mumbai: In addition to the vilified plastic bag, another material is responsible for clogging the city’s drains during the monsoon, contributing to flooding: the coconut shell. City resident Manish Advani found that coconut shells not only clog gutters but are also breeding grounds for mosquitoes. “Coconut shells are very tough and it takes them a long time to disintegrate and find their way to landfills,” he says.

Mr. Advani, a senior executive at Mahindra Special Services Group, has made it his mission to promote recycling of coconut shells, “with an aim to address the issues of waste management, sustainability and the well being of citizens.” He finds creative uses for the shells, preventing them from being tossed into the waste.

The idea of creatively managing waste was planted in 2012 after his son, who had just turned three, started developing breathing trouble due to air pollution — the family lived in Chembur, with the Deonar landfill on one side and the refineries on the other. In January 2016, there was a massive fire at the landfill. “I felt that instead of being a part of the problem, there was a need to find a solution,” he says, and decided to compost waste at home. That is when he realised how difficult it was to compost coconut shells, and started reusing them as planters. “We gave away these planters as gifts, which were highly appreciated and many started following this at home,” he says.

With support from his organisation, he promoted the concept to several corporates across Mumbai, Pune, Jaipur and Delhi and reached out to builders to introduce coconut shells for landscaping. And along with 75 school students, he even distributed over 2,500 plants in coconut shells across the city.

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and an NGO, Stree Mukti Sanghatana, which works with rag pickers, helped him procure coconut shells from various vendors and fill these with soil. These shells were used by the students from BMC schools for planting saplings, which were then distributed to various corporate offices, he says.

Coconut shells for painting

Encouraged by the success of the initiative, Mr. Advani decided to promote painting on coconut shells among school children. “In the past one year, we have engaged over 5,000 children from various schools and professionals and have promoted the concept of making knife holders, coconut candles, bunnies, table lamps and other artefacts,” says Mr. Advani. There is also a plan to promote the concept among underprivileged youth with an aim to add to their income.

On October 20, 2016, he organised the ‘world’s biggest coconut painting drive’ at Bombay Scottish School, in which over 2,300 children participated. Each child brought a dried tender coconut to school with a base coat applied on it. Each coconut was then decorated or painted in class. “The purpose of the drive was to highlight the importance of coconuts being recycled and re-used in a bid to check the spread of dengue,” says Mr. Advani.

Eco-friendly housing

Mr. Advani soon began to explore ideas in sustainable housing through coconut shells. With the help of Jayneel Trivedi, an architect from Pune and 20 students from Somaiya College, Mumbai, he built the first house made of coconut shells as a sustainable intelligent design for rural housing and low-cost slum dwellings.

The house was built at the Somaiya campus and the money came from personal funds. The entire project cost them Rs. 15,000.

“Mumbai alone has 55% of its population staying in slums. In a tropical country like India, living inside a tin shed under the sun is inhuman. To address these issues, we designed the world’s most affordable and first eco-friendly house made from used tender coconut shells,” says Mr. Trivedi.

With the BMC’s support, almost 800 shells weighing about 1.2 tonnes were collected from coconut vendors, sun dried and seasoned for 7-8 days after which they became like wood. They were then cut, fitted and treated with polyurethane coating. The actual construction took 5-6 days. “The house was completely made from waste. The structure was made of scrap metal, panelling with scrap wood while the flooring was of mud,” he says. An 8 sq ft x 8 sq ft house costs Rs. 15,000.

Mr. Advani’s initiative won the International Green Apple Award for Built Environment in the Bronze category in London this June.

Mr. Advani has sought the support of the Clean Mumbai Foundation for allocation of a municipal garden where he plans to dig a few areas and fill them with broken coconut shells as a way to prevent evaporation. “Our aim is to promote this concept in every housing society which has gardens at the ground level so that they are able to sustain on their own water

in future.”

His ultimate mission is to “make sustainability personal.” If everyone across the country becomes part of the solution, “we can avoid garbage dumps in the city, improve the quality of air by greening our homes and improve our health by going organic.”

Recently, Mr. Advani unveiled a ‘coco competition’ in collaboration with Worldview Education, an experiential learning platform, on his Facebook page. Entries are invited from schools and colleges across India on the innovative use of coconut shells. The last date of entry is October 31, 2017.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 3:17:40 PM |

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