The Awesome Orange

The Awesome Orange
September 5, 2017 Christina Mullin

Oranges become a Textile

In Italy, the citrus industry discards one million tons of citrus fruit peels annually. While the peels are of course biodegradable, it still costs a lot of money to dispose of them properly. The start-up Orange Fiber, run by Adriana Santanocito and Enrica Arena, has developed a new kind of fabric, which is entirely made of waste citrus fruit peels.
The idea came to Santanocito while working on her thesis in fashion design. Since Sicily, where she is from, is responsible for a major amount of peels, she tried to think of a way to reduce the amount of waste. And thus the idea to make fabric from the discarded peels was born.
The peels are processed with a patented method to extract the cellulose that is spun to form the final yarn. The fabric looks and feels like silk: soft to the touch and a shiny appearance. The biodegradable yarn can be spun with any type of existing yarn.
Aside from looking pretty and feeling nice, the orange yarn has an additional benefit: thanks to nanotechnology, the material still contains essential oils and vitamin C that are present in the citrus fruit peel. The skin absorbs these oils and is nourished by them, making the fabric a wearable body cream. According to Orange Fiber, despite the oils, the fabric does not feel greasy. The oils are guaranteed to last at least twenty washing cycles, but the company is experimenting with recharging methods with special fabric softeners.
The company made three prototype fabrics. One is a lace silk in black and white, the second a cream colored satin from which clothes such as summer dresses can be made, and lastly, a viscose-like fabric, which is intended to make clothes for daily use like shirts. The citrus peel yarn has won several national and international awards.
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.

Oranges become Flour
Oranges make baked goods healthier, and stay fresher, thanks to a new procedure, which transforms them into an innovative fat-free flour. The new technique is currently being tested at the University of Catania and results are encouraging. At the moment, almost all bakers use fat, such as butter or margarine in their cooking. But according to the research, half of this fat could be replaced by using flour obtained from orange rinds, seeds, and part of the pulp not used in juice making.
Like Orange Fiber, the researchers obtain the raw materials they need from local juice makers. They wash the rinds to remove the bitter flavor, 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 produce. 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 happy with the results and could taste no difference in their pastries.

Oranges become Natural Fuel
In Mussomeli, an ancient town near Caltanissetta in the middle of Sicily, orange waste products are used to make biogas, which is turned into electricity. The farm Nuova Scala used about 16,430 tons 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 tons of orange waste in 2017.

Of course, all of these projects depend on local fruit companies, which produce many thousands of tons 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 tons of it a year. He says Sicily as a whole produces about 200,000 tons, although unofficial estimates suggest the real figure could be higher. Producers have an incentive to re-use pastazzo, because disposal can be expensive. Mr. Imbesi says that in Sicily the total cost of disposal can reach 16m euros every year, “six for the cost of the transport, and 10 for the disposal itself”.

Finally, thanks to the new crop of innovative solutions, the squeezed fruit are being turned from expensive waste into exciting products.