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India’s steel industry is the third largest in the world today at 80 million tons per year, which is expected to grow to 120 over the next 2 years. About 50% of these are flat sheets and coils, which are transported by road, rail, and sea to their destinations. An estimated 400,000 trees are required each year to sustain the packaging needs of the Indian steel industry and this number will grow in correlation to the growth of steel production.

It takes 20 years for the trees to mature enough to suit the requirements of the industry – at 400,000 trees annually this is a highly unsustainable situation. Procurement officers of steel plants are having an increasingly difficult time obtaining the needed timber as forests disappear.

In a few developed countries, the steel industry has looked to create synthetic alternatives to wood pallets (e.g., hard plastics). But even these synthetic alternatives come at a hefty price to the environment, because what happens after their useful life is finished?

So, Coir Atlas was born as the all natural, sustainable alternative for “packaging” wood. Its composition of bamboo and jute are completely bio-degradable and eco-friendly.

What is it?

Coir Atlas is a range of products, made of bamboo and jute, which are meant to replace the timber used during the packaging of steel for transportation. The main product is essentially an imitation wood log. The end result is used like a wooden log, where steel sheets or plates can be placed on top.

Other products under development include a bamboo pallet that will substitute wood pallets and could have a wider application beyond the steel industry.

Why bamboo?

I often get asked the question of how using bamboo is any more sustainable than wood and the answer boils down to: bamboo is not a tree, it is grass and therefore its growth is different. Bamboo grows 6x faster than wood, so while it takes 20 years to grow a tree to industry standards, it takes 4 years for bamboo to become viable. You can also grow 20x the amount of bamboo on the same amount of land as compared to timber.

The kicker is that bamboo forests actually die if not harvested regularly, so by harvesting mature bamboo, it actually helps to maintain the forest. And given that India’s 10,000 hectares of bamboo forest are underutilized, it’s actually beneficial to find more uses of bamboo.

*Did you know that bamboo has a tensile strength of 26,000, which is stronger than steel? One Coir Atlas unit of 4 bamboo sections can support up to 50 tons of pressure!

What is the potential impact?

The dual mission of the company is to have a positive environmental as well as social impact. The environmental impact is quite clear – save trees by using a more sustainable alternative. The potential to save 400,000 trees is quite encouraging.

The social impact is less obvious, but just as important. The design of Coir Atlas is simple enough that given a week’s training, unskilled women can easily be taught to make the units. An experienced woman can make hundreds of units per day, which translates into an average of Rs. 300 in earnings. That’s 3x the amount provided by government employment programs (i.e., NREG) and a decent wage for her family. What’s more, many steel plants are located in the poorer regions of the country where rural unemployment is high. Jharkhand, which is home to both Tata and Bokaro Steel, the two largest steel plants in the country, is also one of the poorest states. The creation of small cottage industry groups to produce Coir Atlas would have a significant impact on the lives of the people in the area as well.

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