Peel appeal: a new life for citrus fruit waste

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Being Europe’s top citrus fruit producer is something Spain should be proud of. But there are downsides. Citrus fruit waste is notoriously high while the packaging required for fruit juices means Spain consumes way too much plastic. A LIFE project has found a solution to curb both problems.

Launched in March as part of the European Green Deal, the EU’s Circular Economy Plan wants businesses to reduce such waste. We recently spoke with LIFE Citruspack's Carolina Peñalva Lapuente, who explained how her team is achieving this goal.

How did Citruspack start?

Some waste from citrus fruit is used in livestock feed, but a lot of it ends up in landfill as it spoils easily. As a research and technology organisation focused on sustainable innovation, we knew there had to be another way to deal with the problem.

We heard of a major Spanish fruit drink manufacture that was interested in cutting waste and making their juice bottles eco-friendly. We met up with them to discuss our idea of turning citrus fruit waste into a useful resource.  They liked our approach and we joined forces with the help of LIFE funding.

What are your goals?

Our main focus is to extract natural fibres and pulp from citrus fruit, which we then transform into plastic bottles for juice and jars for cosmetics. We are also deriving other substances from the waste to produce essential oils and antioxidants for cosmetics.

We want to bring all of these products to market.

The project will finish in December 2020, but we have already developed prototypes for the bottle and the jar. We have also been in talks with various companies who want to use our materials in their own products.

Who are your partners?

There are three partners from Spain and another four from Belgium, France, Greece, and Slovenia. In Spain, we are a research and technology organisation, a fruit juice manufacturer and a supermarket, which we hope will sell our final products. Abroad, partners include a waste technology company, a cosmetics company and a plastics association.

How does the project link to EU policies such as the Circular Economy Plan and the European Green Deal?

Our whole ethos is to develop sustainable products, so we are definitely helping Europe meet its Green Deal goals. And we are trying to reduce waste and eliminate it going to landfill, which supports the Circular Economy Plan.

How can a circular economy encourage a sustainable economic recovery and job creation in a post Covid-19 world?

I think post-Covid, companies will want to become more sustainable and will therefore adopt a circular economy approach.

We are also doing this by bringing our sustainable bottles and cosmetics to market. I hope that this will see new jobs being created, and the local economy being given a boost.

I think that the food sector will be less impacted by Covid than other sectors, so we are in a good position to reach this goal.

Have you collaborated with other LIFE projects?

Yes, we have. For example, we recently worked with LIFE BioTHOP to develop sustainable planting pots for the garden.

What’s next for Citruspack?

The project has less than six months left. In this time, we will draw up a business plan. The goal is to create our own company so that we can start selling our products. We also need to work on our labelling, get certified and do more product testing.

But we are quietly confident. We have already received a lot of interest from other companies who want to use our products, so will work with them to finalise the details. 

There’s a lot of work to be done but we think we can have products on the market in around one year’s time.

Image: LIFE16 ENV/ES/000171

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