David Cutler is a designer. Tamara Mekler is a Behavioral Biologist. While gaining their respective graduate degrees at Stanford, the duo traveled to the Philippines to collaborate on a school project to improve the design of fish packaging.
In one of those curveballs that life throws you, Cutler and Mekler found themselves learning about another industry in the Philippines: Coconut farming. They learned that that industry’s waste is coconut husks, which were considered worthless. Farmers burn them in bonfires just to get rid of them.
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However, when Cutler and Mekler investigated the material, they found it had some potentially very useful properties, if it could be connected to another industry:
“Coconut husk fibers are hollow and contain tons of tiny trapped air pockets–the same exact structure that plastic foam insulation uses to reduce heat transfer (i.e. conduction). In fact, if you compare Expanded Polystyrene foam (EPS, a.k.a. Styrofoam) and coconut fiber side by side under a microscope, you’ll hardly see a difference. Yet every cooler brand, and almost every outdoor gear company, relies on polluting plastic foam insulation without thinking twice about it.”
Cutler and Mekler subsequently figured out a way to process the husks into sheets of insulating material. They also teamed up with design firm Box Clever to design this eco-friendly, collapsible soft-sided Nutshell Cooler:
The performance sounds nothing short of amazing:
“Nutshell kept ice frozen for more than 48 hours in our tests, outperforming the Yeti Hopper Two, Coleman Excursion, Styrofoam, and several other coolers in identical conditions. There are many variables that affect ice retention including contents of the cooler, ratio of ice, original ice temperature, type of ice (crushed, block, cube), ambient temperature, exposure to direct sunlight, etc. Therefore, we can’t tell you exactly how long ice will last inside your Nutshell, but we can tell you it will last longer than it would have inside most plastic alternatives.“
At press time the Nutshell Cooler had been successfully Kickstarted, with $69,572 in pledges on a $30,000 goal, with 27 days left to pledge. Congratulations to Cutler and Mekler!