As the world observes World Coconut Day on Thursday, an Indian girl is working on making life sustainable by converting waste coconut shells into eco-friendly items for daily use.
Twenty-six-year-old Maria Kuriakose from Kerala, who has a background in business and economics, did her schooling in the state and then went to Mumbai for further studies and a job. She stayed there for seven years.
After that, her strong interest to do something different brought her back to her home state. She wanted to work with natural products as it would also benefit the farm sector.
Maria chose Thenga, which is “coconut” in her native Malayalam language, to produce kitchenware. Thenga is also her brand name for these products.
“A coconut is something in which you can utilize every part. Coconut also holds an important part in the life of every Keralite [resident of Kerala]. It is also known as the tree of life in Kerala. I decided to make use of coconut shells which were wasted earlier,” Maria told Anadolu Agency.
Coconut is Kerala’s major crop, but Maria realized that except for coconut oil, all other parts of the coconut were discarded and wasted. She saw that coconut shells were burnt as a waste product and only a fraction of them were converted and used as activated charcoal.
“The coconut shell is a sustainable and long-lasting substitute for plastic particularly for making kitchen items,” she said.
Maria left her corporate job in Mumbai in 2020 and decided to settle in her home state of Kerala to dedicate herself to Thenga, which she had founded a year earlier. She established the manufacturing unit in Thrissur with the help of her father.
She prepared samples of coconut bowls with her mother and approached stores specializing in eco-friendly products. She was thus able to fulfill her dream of starting something of her own.
Maria is concerned about the negative impact that humans are having on Earth, so she never used plastic products, even during her stay in Mumbai.
Thenga is producing around 15-20 products right now, which include coconut bowls, cups, spoons and forks. The cutlery produced by the brand is natural and free from any chemicals. To keep her material completely natural, Maria has trained her staff to make use of coconut oil as a substitute for varnish for the final coat of polish.
They have even started exporting coconut materials to the US, UK and United Arab Emirates through their partners. They have a total of 15 employees, including 12 coconut artisans, for the production of different materials. They source their raw materials from four oil mills with whom they have tied up.
“We majorly see what more products we can develop. We plan to expand our business and customer base. Next, we are working on coconut shell tiles. We also plan to produce furniture, coconut shell toys and coconut containers for packaging materials,” said Maria.
“We have a few items in mind that we want to focus on and improve our product catalogue and also the utility of the products that we are making,” she added.