A Conversation with Andrea Zangara of Euromed
by Ann Armbrecht
If food waste were a country, its emissions would rank third in the world, after China and the US, producing 8% of manmade emissions. While there hasn’t been as much attention to the role of waste in the botanical industry, companies are increasingly talking about Zero Waste and finding alternative packaging. Less attention is paid to waste of raw materials in growing, harvesting and post-harvest handling.
As part of the Sustainable Herbs Program efforts to highlight innovative approaches to tackling sustainability challenges in the industry, Ann spoke with Andrea Zangara, Scientific Marketing Manager at Euromed, an ingredient supplier in Barcelona, Spain, about upcycling residue from extracting saw palmetto fruit. Our conversation was over email.
Sustainability and Euromed’s Company Culture
Ann: Can you talk a bit about Euromed’s approach to sustainability overall?
Andrea: A commitment to the environment is one of Euromed’s key values and is integral to our company culture. We pursue this through supporting sustainable farming, reducing the collection of wild plants, establishing sustainable plantations whenever possible, respecting GACP, and fully complying with local legislations and regulations such as those established by the European Commission and by the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
In recent years, we have developed goals and projects focusing on specific environmental efforts. These include for example:
- Reducing CO2 emissions and energy consumption;
- Increasing greener energy use;
- Increasing our focus on researching extracts with plants and fruits grown near our production plants that are representative of the Mediterranean diet (figs, olives, pomegranates, artichokes etc.);
- Cooperating with local farmers for the renewal of crops and research for more respectful cultivation techniques including organic.
- Recycling biomass, the company’s manufacturing waste product.
Why Saw Palmetto?
Ann: How was this project utilizing waste from saw palmetto berries initiated?
Our Barcelona Manufacturing Plant, where we extract more than 5,000 tons of biomass, has received seven industrial certifications, including ISO 14001 for environmental sustainability. We manage water, for example, by KPI’s to control sustainable consumption and wastewater treatment. Moreover, we work to reduce waste production and implement eco-friendly waste management. Within these extended commitments, the scoping for additional and innovative sustainability initiatives identified the dye project.
Ann: Why did you choose to focus on waste materials from saw palmetto (Serenoa repens)?
Andrea: The Lipidic Sterolic Saw Palmetto Extract (SPE) produced by Euromed is obtained from Serenoa repens, a unique botanical. Florida and a small area of Georgia are the only areas in the world where the ripe berries of Saw palmetto palm trees, a wild harvested plant considered endangered, are collected, by hand. The wild harvest takes place in late summer (when the berries are ripened and contain the right profile of active compounds), during the hurricane season, and it is vulnerable to these unpredictable weather conditions.
In 2005 we built a dedicated facility near Lake Okeechobee, in the heart of the Everglades, to process and dry saw palmetto berries close to where they are collected. This ensures the optimal fatty acid content of the berries and allows us to have complete traceability of the raw material. By ensuring proper handling, drying (within 48 hours) and extraction, we take steps to help us produce a superior Saw palmetto extract. We have tested this extract in multiple clinical trials.
Upcycling Raw Material Waste
Saw palmetto is vulnerable to commercial exploitation. To make full use of the plant and to close the usage circle of the intense labor involved, we focused on ideas for upcycled products such as dyes from nature, using the remaining residues of the fruit extraction.
We developed the project in collaboration with Archroma®. In 2017, Archroma® launched a patented dyes line, up-cycling natural waste material from other industries to create natural colors for the textile industry. In this project called EarthColors®, waste products from our Saw palmetto production are used to develop ecological dyes that are fully traceable from nature to fashion. Archroma® shares traceability information on smart tags attached to each clothing item.
This video, produced by Archroma®, introduces the manufacturing process natural dyes and their traceability program:
Diresul® Earth-Forest and Earth- Stone dyes uses Euromed’s Saw palmetto extracted biomass. Between 70% to 90% of the raw material comes from the remaining residues after the extraction of Saw palmetto. This closes the cycle of usage of this botanical and makes the most possible use of the whole plant. More information can be found at: https://www.archroma.com/innovations/earth-colors-by-archroma
Research and Scaling Up
Ann: How did you go about making sure this project would work?
Andrea: We had to identify an approach that was compatible with our sustainability and traceability model and was feasible. We began this ambitious and demanding project in 2013 and successfully completed it in 2017. Our scientists performed the laboratory feasibility tests with success. Following, we ran a larger industrial scale trial with good yield and good results. So, we prepared the documentation and completed the first full-scale industrial batch trial with Saw Palmetto biomass.
Ann: What have the impacts been in terms of waste redirected? Are there any measurable savings?
Andrea: The savings from waste management costs not incurred and lower transportation costs are modest but increasing. These savings show that the model works!
Other Innovative Technologies
Ann: What can you take from this project for thinking about waste with other raw materials you source?
Andrea: We have researched using other waste material from biomass extraction for natural dyes with promising results, so we may add other items to the project. However, the waste from only a few plants may be suitable.
We keep brainstorming other innovative technologies. Recently we launched a line of fruit extracts from plants grown locally, obtained with a proprietary eco-friendly water-only extraction. In addition to other benefits, this avoids the release of any potentially contaminant solvents in the environment.
We also maintain our commitment to reduce waste production and eco-friendly waste management. Waste from the biomass extracted at the manufacturing facility goes to companies that create greener energy. We also compost this waste or send it for use as animal feed. Milk thistle residual, for example, has a high nutritional value. We send this residue for free to a company to dry and clean and then add to feed for farm animals.
Small Initiatives Matter
Ann: Do you have advice to other companies thinking about finding ways to use waste in their supply chains? Any other lessons learned?
Andrea: Supply chain and quality control management are essential to Euromed, from farm to finished products and their waste. This project shows an innovative upcycle approach to waste. It indicates that creativity should not only confined to the extraction research lab. And it shows that with a good plan and determination, even small initiatives contribute to promoting a stronger culture of environmental respect and sustainability.
This project also points to the importance of addressing waste management at any level. We spent a lot of money to purchase new equipment to accomplish our environmental goals. This includes on-site wastewater treatment, water purification plants, and botanical extraction technologies with osmotized water-only solvent (Pure-Hydro Process®). We also invested in equipment to reduce atmospheric emissions. But it was money well spent.
As Joe Veilleux, former president of Euromed USA and involved with sustainable upgrades to our facilities, remarked in 2012, “We rely on plants, the Earth’s natural renewable resources, not only for our business but for our health. We have a special interest in making everyone aware of how vital it is that we all take steps to prevent environmental damage.”
Ann: Anything else you would like to add?
Andrea: In addition to our commitment to the environment, Euromed stands against botanical adulteration, a mostly economically-motivated fraudulent practiced by a few unscrupulous companies. Besides negatively impacting the reputation of the whole industry, adulteration puts the health of consumers at risk. It also increases environmental issues related to potentially contaminated wastes. With the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) and other concerned industrial parties, Euromed has co-sponsored two workshops in the European Union in the past 10 months to bring attention to the adulteration problem and to discuss ideas on how to improve the current situation.
Founded in 1971 by the 100-year-old German pharmaceutical company MADAUS, EUROMED S.A. is now part of the German pharmaceutical group DERMAPHARM. Euromed is a vertically integrated producer of standardized botanical extracts and natural active substances for the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, health food and cosmetic industries.
Euromed develops products complying with worldwide GACP, GMPs, International Pharmacopoeias and the strictest environmental regulations.
We are very grateful for Euromed’s support of the Sustainable Herbs Program as an inaugural underwriter.