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Zero Waste

Did you know 40% of food is wasted?

Not so with almonds.


Why almonds’ uber-long shelf life matters.

America throws away nearly 60 million tons of food every year. That's almost 40% of the entire U.S food supply,1 not to mention all of the resources that went into growing that food. While the numbers vary a bit from country to country, it’s a problem around the globe with food lost or wasted on the farm, in transport, at retail and in our homes.

Almonds are an exception in this space with their 2+ year shelf life. That means less than 1% are thrown out in the home,2 the lowest of any U.S. food, and even fewer in the supply chain. What’s more, almonds grow inside of a hull and a shell, both of which are put to good use after the nuts are harvested. More on that below.

Another plus of that long shelf life? Almonds are perfectly suited for travel by boat — no need for airplanes here! Transportation via cargo ships has the lowest carbon emissions of common food transport methods, producing 50 times less carbon dioxide emissions per kilometer than travel by airplane.3

Four crops in one.

The nutritious almonds we eat grow in a shell, protected by a hull, on a tree — and nothing goes to waste. Putting each of these products to good use helps significantly offset the carbon footprint of growing almonds.4

At the end of their productive lives, almond trees are either mulched back into the land to create healthier soils or used to create electricity via cogeneration, supporting California’s green energy grid. The shells are used as livestock bedding and the hulls become livestock feed, offsetting the need to grow other crops.

This has water-saving benefits too. Almond hulls can replace alfalfa hay pound for pound in up to 20% of dairy cows’ diets, and all of California’s almond hulls are currently used for dairy feed. This reduces the acreage needed to grow alfalfa hay by 386,000 acres, saving the equivalent of 440 billion gallons of water.5 That’s equal to the annual water use of 4 million U.S. households.6

Building a circular economy.

While the current uses for almond hulls, shells and trees are good, we’re true Californians — always innovating. Focusing on ideas that are a win-win for farmers and the planet, farmer-funded research is underway exploring the feasibility of several new uses for almond hulls and shells.

One exciting approach is using almond hulls as an upcycled food ingredient. A cousin to peaches, the almond’s fuzzy outer hull is like the part of a peach we eat – filled with sugars but more bitter. We partnered with Bay Area food innovator Mattson to see if their unique flavor profile could meet the needs of food companies. After research into dozens of concepts, Mattson developed five product prototypes, the most promising of which are performance nutrition bars, a caffeine-free tea and lower-impact coffee.

Concurrent with this work, the Almond Board is working through the regulatory process needed to introduce new ingredients into our food supply. This process will determine hulls’ nutritional profile and any allergen concerns. From there, food companies will have a new almond ingredient to choose from as they develop new products or look to add upcycled ingredients and reduce the environmental impact of their existing offerings.

Other ideas for almond hulls include using them as a growing medium for mushroom cultivation, soil amendments for almond orchards and other crops, biofuel feedstock, and feed sources for poultry.

In addition to potential uses in biofuels and biochar, research has found that almond shells can help with the world’s plastic problem. Converted into a charcoal-like material via a process called torrefaction, almond shells can be added to post-consumer recycled plastics, making them stronger and more heat stable.7 This new approach increases the recyclability of existing plastic, resulting in less new plastic in the world.

A project looking at almond tree wood is underway with a Santa Monica-based startup, The Hurd Co. With the goal of developing an upcycled textile from almond trees for outdoor company Patagonia, a pilot study found that the wood has the right fiber length and composition to make fabric. A full-scale trial will begin in 2024. In addition to whole almond trees at orchard removal, there is also potential that prunings and trees that blow over before the end of the orchard’s 25-year life can be utilized in this way.

Part of the Solution

Spotlight On: Zero Waste

1 United States Food and Drug Administration. Food Loss and Waste. February 2023.

2 Jean Buzby, et al. Food Loss Data Help Inform the Food Waste Discussion. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. June 2013.

3 Joseph Poore, et al. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science. June 2018.

4 Alissa Kendall, et al. Life Cycle–Based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production. Part 1: Analytical Framework and Baseline Results. Journal of Industrial Ecology. 2015.

5 UC Davis, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Sample Cost Study Alfalfa Hay and Organic Alfalfa Hay, 2020.

6 United States Environmental Protection Agency. How We Use Water, 2023. The average US household uses 109,500 gallons annually.

7 Zach McCaffrey, et al. Recycled polypropylenepolyethylene torrefied almond shell biocomposites. Industrial Crops and Products. 2019.