01 Sep 2017
Cairo, Egypt
Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management

Walking the streets of Cairo, it is not difficult to find a vendor squeezing oranges into juice. But for every cup of freshly pressed liquid comes a notably less sweet prospect — the wasted peel and rind that remains. Until now, that peel has lost value the second it falls from the orange. That means an alarming amount of waste, given Egypt produces an estimated three million metric tons of oranges each year.

Diaa Eldin Adham and Abdelnasser Farrag were not aware of that wasteful dilemma until recently. The two young electrical engineers met at a SwitchMed business training camp, and later teamed up at a waste management and sustainability camp in Cairo. That camp focused on finding solutions for the industrial sector in Egypt, namely the country’s plentiful food businesses. One of their case studies was about the difficulty orange juicing companies face when disposing of their fruit peel waste — it is either brought to landfills or sold for minimal gain as animal feed. In some worst case environmental scenarios, the waste was being burned.

Adham and Farrag had found their innovation challenge.

When life gives you orange waste:

Together, the two entrepreneurs created VWaste (Valuable Waste), a business that transforms orange peel waste from juicing companies into raw orange peel powder. By producing the powder, VWaste adds value to what would otherwise be garbage, creating an additional revenue stream for themselves and orange juice companies. The resulting orange peel powder can then be sold to pectin manufacturers around the world.

Pectin is an ingredient in many food products like jellies, jams, and juices. It is also becoming increasingly popular in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical sectors as companies search for more natural ingredients. In that sense, VWaste is well positioned, especially as the outlook for the global pectin market predicts a 7.7% growth in demand over the next decade. “Right now there is just not enough raw pectin powder out there,” Adham says. “We would like to reduce this market gap.”

To do that, VWaste is refining its final prototype and product to meet the strict quality standards of pectin companies. Once that point is reached, the powder can be packed and shipped to the European pectin manufacturers with whom Adham has already made contact.

A sweet deal for orange juicing companies:

Adham and Farrag plan to have full operations up and running this October, the start of Egypt’s orange season. Despite being in the prototype phase, Adham says orange juicing businesses are already welcoming the addition of their business solution. “The majority of them have to pay to dispose of it, so when I tell them I will buy their waste they are definitely happy,” he says.

So far VWaste has approached seven juicing plants in Egypt who have said they are ready to cooperate and willing to partner with the business. From initial market research data, Adham says this could mean the redirection of up to 100,000 tons of orange waste each year — from those seven plants alone.

One of VWaste’s greatest challenges is ensuring they get to the orange peel waste quickly enough. “After juicing, the peel must be processed within two hours otherwise its nutritious value goes away,” Adham explains, noting that most orange groves are found around the governorates of Ismailia, and Dakahlia in the north of Egypt.

To solve this geographical obstacle, VWaste plans to set up separate production lines near each orange juicing plant — likely one center per industrial area when expansion takes place. Once the waste is collected before its freshness expires, it will be washed and dried, before being ground into raw powder. It will then be packed in containers and shipped to pectin manufacturers worldwide.

The potential for agricultural recycling:

VWaste’s work is consistent with Egypt’s slow shift towards the recycling of agricultural waste.

Mohamed El Shagie, a resource efficiency and cleaner production specialist in Cairo, says that while there are Egyptian companies that focus on animal waste processing and composting, the prospect of producing higher value products that contribute to the economy is still relatively unexplored. El Shagie is a business mentor to many young entrepreneurs, including Adham and Farrag. “I think they have quite a high probability of success — from my experience, waste management companies normally focus on conventional types of waste such as plastic and cardboard,” he says. VWaste is currently the only business in Egypt focused on the processing of citrus waste. 

Something limiting the growth of agricultural recycling in Egypt, El Shagie notes, is technology constraints — processing that requires high tech machinery that is restrictively expensive to buy or import. What is, however, different about VWaste’s tactic, is that the drying and grinding of peel is done using locally manufactured equipment, minimizing a huge cost and startup challenge.

Despite the potential roadblocks, Adham says it is an important niche market to pursue in the coming years. “Environmentally, we have an ethical obligation to reduce the carbon footprint of agricultural waste. Socially and economically, we are providing job opportunities to Egyptians, while also supporting the juicing industry in the country,” he says. “We really want to clear the way for a waste management revolution.”

VWaste recently won the 2017 SwitchMed Green Entrepreneurship Competition in Egypt, and will represent the company at a larger regional pitch competition in Barcelona, Spain, in 2018. Adham says juicing companies have offered financial partnerships, and the business has also been approached with startup loans and investment offers.

But Adham says the first step is finalizing their prototype and preparing for the upcoming juicing season — after all, that orange waste is not going to dispose of itself.

Website: https://www.f6s.com/vwaste 

Photos: courtesy of VWaste

Hilary is a journalist, photographer, and maker of things. She loves working with entrepreneurs to share their stories and has done so around the world.Hilary Duff
Adding value to Egypt’s citrus waste | The Switchers
VWaste Resource Efficiency & Sustainable Waste Management
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