Bas: “Each day, we save around 40,000 kg of orange peels from destruction”

News overview

Fibre and oil for food products including soft drinks, bread and meat substitutes, made from orange peels. DOEN partner PeelPioneers makes new ingredients from residual waste flows. We spoke to Bas van Wieringen, one of the initiators.

From food waste to food ingredients

Using as much as possible of what Mother Earth has given us as food. That’s the ambition upheld by PeelPioneers. Bas: “So many raw materials get thrown away. To this day, I don’t understand why.” In the Netherlands, the number of different types of fresh orange juice is rising, with even more peels being destroyed. “Even though they contain lots of valuable ingredients,” Bas explains. “We use the peels to make ingredients and want people to start seeing them as a raw material instead of a waste flow.”

In concrete terms, PeelPioneers’ factory turns them into oils and fibres for use in biscuits, (soft) drinks, soups, sauces and meat substitutes. The pulp remaining after production goes to farmers who use it as feed.

Pump up the volume for real impact

DOEN has supported PeelPioneers since 2017, when they were still going through the pilot phase. Bas: “DOEN believed in us from the start. Back then, the three founders were processing a wheelie bin of peels a day in a small warehouse in Amsterdam. We were the first to do this, so logically we had very little evidence to show it would be successful, while we needed lots of money to set up a factory at an early stage. The fact that DOEN stepped in so early was essential to us.”

Thanks to DOEN Participaties’ investment, more investors joined and the organisation was able to build two factories and scale them up. Today, PeelPioneers operates Europe’s biggest peel processing factory – in Den Bosch – measuring around three football fields. “We believe that if you really want to make an impact, you have to pump up the volume. Each day, we now save around 40,000 kg of orange peels from destruction.”

The factory of PeelPioneers

A circular company achieving economies of scale

Bas is proud that PeelPioneers has succeeded in setting an example of an industrial-scale circular company within such a short period – only five years. “I’m often stumped by people thinking something is either sustainable and expensive or linear and cheap. We’ve shown that you can pursue a circular initiative on an industrial scale and generate a huge impact.” PeelPioneers today employs a close-knit team of around forty people. “Everyone here is committed to achieving the beautiful goal of saving orange peels from destruction.”

Preventing as much food destruction as possible

PeelPioneers aims to achieve further growth by saving even more peels and extracting more ingredients from them. Bas: “Saving more peels does present a challenge if your factory only has a limited capacity. But we want to expand and make more of an impact.” With the aim of extracting more ingredients from peels, a team of six employees conducts daily lab research. Among the promising outcomes, the newly developed dietary fibres provide firmness and structure to meat substitutes, as well as the right feel when eaten. As such, they will contribute greatly to the protein transition.

“A pragmatic approach to improving the world”

Bas wants to inspire budding pioneers to understand that you don’t have to change everything and everyone all at once, or even do it all yourself. “Focus on one issue or problem at a time and work together. For example, we cooperate with Renewi, the biggest waste company in the Netherlands, which collects the peels for us. They do what they’re good at and we do what we’re good at.”