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The environmental and economic impact of using plant fibres for the production of low cost materials in developing countries

In recent years, plant fibres have been increasingly used, as a replacement for plastics-based materials. This replacement has environmental interest, in that the end-of-use scenario is likely to be more environmentally friendly, and also can be important for boosting the economy of developing countries, where most plant fibres of interest are cropped. In some of these countries, local expertise exists in manufacturing products with plant fibres (e.g., woven mats, bags, toys). In addition, some industrial sectors (building, automotive) look with renewed interest to plant fibres for a number of uses (e.g., automotive panels, anti-erosion nets). However, a possible risk is that plants for fibre production may just become other “cash crops”, without giving significant contribution to Third World economy.

The research was aimed at evaluating if the environmental gain obtained by replacing plastics with plant fibres can result also in reduction of unemployment and technological dependence in developing countries. More specifically, the study concentrated on the case of coir (coconut fibres) in Sri Lanka, where a very long history of local treatment and use of these fibres exist.
Methodology involved consulting scientific, economic and environmental literature and gathering data from coir producers and end-users of coir products to look at different perspectives. In addition, through contact with international organisations, the role of the international community in inspiring and directing the route for the development of this industry has been clarified. Finally, observing the future perspective of this issue involved considerations on the evolution of coir market in the next decade, relating them to the global political and environmental situation and to the specific position of Sri Lanka.

The results obtained confirmed the difficulty of finding the right balance between transforming the traditional manufacture of natural fibres products into a modern industry without falling in a “cash crop” like exploitation philosophy. Crucial factors possibly capable of setting this balance right are the co-operation between different fibre producing countries, and assistance from international organisations, in particular on the important aspect of lowering transportation costs. Coir fibre products particularly promising for Third World development appear to be geo-textiles, which present a significant added value, in spite of being produced by reasonably simple processes, and upholstery products, provided that problems linked with the use of chemicals are solved.

Mostra/Nascondi contenuto.
3 1. Introduction 1.1 Background Coir is the fibre from the coconut fruit. It is a common experience that fibres detached from the coconut skin are quite hard to break by simple tension, hence by pulling from both sides. Excellent properties of resistance to wear and easy availability in countries, such as Sri Lanka, where coconut palms are widespread, have allowed coir to be employed for a variety of uses, e.g., for manufacturing toys, bags and carpets. More recently, coir has also found additional applications, which appear to be gradually replacing the traditional ones and possibly create an alternative market for coir and coconut palms by-products (Moir 2002). For example, coir is recently used to manufacture containment nets aimed at protecting soil from erosion, thereby replacing polyester nets, with the added advantage that coir nets will not need to be removed eventually, since they act as an active support to plants growth (Rao et al., 2000). Another interesting possibility is the replacement of wooden boards with coconut husk boards, obtained using a compression moulding process with no added chemicals. Coconut husk is a residue from coconut production, comprising approximately 30 wt.% coir fibres and 70 wt.% pith. These boards proved to have sufficient moisture resistance to be employed in upholstery (Van Dam et al., 2004). The latter example is particularly suggestive of a field of application, which is becoming increasingly important in the last decade, and which can present both environmental and economic importance, in particular for the developing countries: the use of vegetal fibres to obtain materials capable of replacing plastics. This replacement is likely to be largely supported worldwide in the near future, in that it presents substantial environmental advantages, including the fact that a wider use of plant fibres in materials offers a better end-of-life scenario for the components (Czigany 2004). In the particular case of the automotive industry, restrictions on scrapped car disposal are gradually coming into force, such as the directive adopted by the European Commission in September 2000 (directive 2000/53/EC), which impose a larger use of bio-degradable materials in car manufacture (European Commission 2000).

Tesi di Laurea

Autore: Carlo Santulli Contatta »

Composta da 75 pagine.


Questa tesi ha raggiunto 275 click dal 25/07/2005.

Disponibile in PDF, la consultazione è esclusivamente in formato digitale.