Suppliers of packaging are constantly striving to find the best ways to reuse and recycle, but chocolate producer Ferrero is leading the pack when it comes to nuts ideas right now. The biggest chocolate producer on the planet – and the biggest hazelnut buyer – is planning to reuse the shells left over from the 180 million kilogrammes of Nutella chocolate spread it makes each year to make packaging.
The Italian firm uses a quarter of the global supply of hazelnuts and so has plenty of shells to use. It has now teamed up with renewable packaging suppliers and producers Stora Enso and German research institute PTS to develop EcoPaper. This forms part of an £870 million project that is half-funded by European Union money.
Stora Enso mill manager Miguel Sanchez says it is impossible to tell a board made from hazelnut apart from regular board by sight. He said experiments were continuing to find the perfect mix of nutshell fibres, but the process is already working well in terms of bulk and stiffness. The hazelnut fibres are being used to create the middle layer of the board, and they will supposedly not cause a problem for allergy sufferers.
The project’s experimental stage should end this year, paving the way for hazelnut products wrapped within hazelnut board. Stora Enso is also involved in early-stage testing of using cocoa skin as a means of obtaining fibre for pulp, and there are already other companies in the world realising the potential of nuts.
Technology company NEC, based in Japan, is working on using shells from cashew nuts to produce a durable bioplastic rather than the starch from corn and other plants that is usually used. This would help alleviate concerns about using edible products for anything other than food when land to feed the world’s population is increasingly in short supply.
There is a supply of 1.4 billion tonnes of starch each year, but this is overshadowed by the abundance of cellulose – the main component in the shells of cashews – which has an annual supply of 80 billion tonnes each year. The resulting packaging could be used in car interiors, petrol pumps and computer casings.
Cashew-nut shells are already used as a form of biofuel, as are peanut shells, particularly in the major crop-producing areas of India and South Africa. In Spain, almond shells are used to create biomass briquettes, and Suncoat Gold Macadamias in Australia uses its shell waste to produce renewable energy. In Turkey, plans are being developed to heat the country’s first eco-city with pistachio-shell fuel.