From fashion to energy – the rind and seeds of Sicily’s most famous citrus fruit, the humble orange, are being utilized in a range of greener, healthier business initiatives.
In 2011, Adriana Santonocito was a design student in Milan when she first had the thought of creating sustainable textiles from what was naturally abundant, and widely wasted, in her native Sicilian city of Catania.
Her challenge was to discover a way for the rinds of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of oranges to be put to good use.
Now, thanks to her creative thinking, it is possible to make whole items of clothing using fibre that originated from the fruit.
Ms Santonocito’s concept was inspired by a question posed in her university dissertation. Could a luxurious silk foulard be made from citrus by-products, that might otherwise be thrown away or fed to cattle? Fiber uses chemical reagents to separate the cellulose from the orange remains
The question was particularly relevant in Sicily, where many thousands of tonnes of citrus fruit are juiced every year, leaving massive amounts of waste.
The 39-year-old found her answer in the university’s labs, and it earned her a patent.
It was already known that cellulose might be extracted from orange rinds. But Ms Santonocito discovered that, using chemical reagents, it could then be turned into yarn, which could be dyed and blended with other textiles, resembling cotton or polyester.
Together along with her university colleague Enrica Arena, she founded Orange Fiber in 2014, and set about selling the silk-like material to clothes-makers. head up a 12-strong team
This year, the famous Italian fashion label Salvatore Ferragamo used it in its spring-summer collection. The aim was to make its high-end shirts, dresses and foulards more sustainable.
Orange Fiber, which now has a team of 12 people, operates from an area juice-processing plant, where it gets its waste material for free.
The business is partially seasonal, operating through the months of the year when the juice-maker works. But once the orange rind has been transformed into cellulose, it may be put in storage to be used later.
Antonio Perdichizzi, an early investor in Orange Fiber, says the firm stood out to him because, unlike most innovative start-ups in Italy, it is not digital.
Fiber uses the rinds of juiced oranges
“Italy would not invest much in innovation, but brilliant ideas and skills win despite an absence of resources,” he adds.
Rosario Faraci, a professor of business, economics and management at the University of Catania, says the firm is an example of how “creativity and entrepreneurial spirit” is creating new jobs and businesses within the region.
Fibre – not fat
Oranges could also make baked goods healthier, and stay fresher, because of a brand new procedure which transforms them into an innovative fat-free flour.
The new technique is currently being tested on the University of Catania and results are encouraging.
In the meanwhile, almost all bakers use fat, corresponding to butter or margarine in their cooking.
But based on the research, half of this fat might be replaced by using flour obtained from orange rinds, seeds, and part of the pulp not utilized in juice-making. near Catania, liked the new flour
Like Orange Fiber, the researchers obtain the raw materials they need from local juice makers. They wash the rinds to remove the bitter flavour, then dry, process and whiten what remains.
Salvatore Barbagallo, a professor of agriculture at the University of Catania, says the flour is “perfectly sustainable” and costs almost nothing to supply. It also has “no impact” on the taste and fragrance of food that contains it.
His researchers made 300kg of the flour and got local bakers in Acireale, near Catania, to try it out.
The cooks, known for being conservative about new ingredients, were all pleased with the outcomes and will taste no difference in their pastries. The new flour is soluble
The researchers say they’ve found other uses for the flour, too.
It is soluble and will be added to drinks to supply health benefits. It could also be utilized by nutritionists and in medicine.
Sicilian farmers have always used orange rinds as animal feed or fertiliser. But oranges generally is a precious source of energy as well.
In Mussomeli, an ancient town near Caltanissetta in the course of Sicily, orange waste products are used to make biogas which is turned into electricity.
The farm Nuova Scala used about 16,430 tonnes of rinds last year to produce 24,000 kWh of electricity.
Output varies depending on the amount of oranges produced, and the firm expects to get through 22,000 tonnes of orange waste in 2017.Disposing of oranges after they have been juiced may be expensive
In fact, all of those projects depend upon local fruit companies, which produce many thousands of tonnes of citrus by-products annually.
Salvatore Imbesi, who owns the producer AgrumiGel, says the rinds, seeds and other non-edible parts of the fruit are called “pastazzo”, and he produces about 40,000 tonnes of it a year.
He says Sicily as a complete produces about 200,000 tonnes, although unofficial estimates suggest the true figure might be higher.
Producers have an incentive to re-use pastazzo, because disposal can be expensive. Mr Imbesi says that in Sicily the overall cost of disposal can reach 16m euros yearly, “six for the cost of the transport, and 10 for the disposal itself”.