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Zero Waste

Using Everything the Orchard Grows

Finding ways to reduce our environmental footprint while adding value is at the heart of almond farming, ensuring farmers can grow a better future for their families, communities and the planet.

The nutritious almonds we eat1 grow in a shell, protected by a hull, on a tree. The trees, essential to life, remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it as wood until the end of their lives when it can be mulched back into the land to create healthier soils and help fight climate change. The hulls become livestock feed, offsetting the need to grow other crops, and the shells are used as livestock bedding. Nothing goes to waste.

2025 GoalsToday, the almond community is spurring innovation for higher-value and more sustainable uses with 85 projects funded to date and promising research in the areas of recycled plastics, fuel, and regenerative agriculture. In fact, by 2025, the California almond community commits to achieve zero waste  in our orchards by putting everything we grow to optimal use. 

Zero Waste

Low carbon footprint.

Almond trees capture and store a significant amount of carbon over their 25-year life cycle, and using the hulls, shells, and trees themselves is key to reducing carbon emissions and environmental impact. Considering the inherent properties of trees and traditional uses of almond coproducts, current almond farming practices are offsetting about 50% of their carbon emissions.2 With further production improvements and policy changes, the California almond community could eventually be carbon neutral, or even carbon negative.

According to Dr. Alissa Kendall, researcher at University of California, Davis, “California almonds have a lower carbon footprint than many other nutrient-dense foods.”

Climate-smart farming.

Can you recycle an entire orchard? A new approach pioneered by almond farmers  is doing just that. 

So how does it work? Almond orchards generally live for 25 years, during which the trees remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it as wood, a process known as carbon sequestration. At the end of their productive lives, whole almond trees are ground up and incorporated back into the soil which extends that carbon sequestration by storing it in the soil, helping to address climate change. Farms that use whole orchard recycling sequester 2.4 tons of carbon per acre,  equivalent to living car-free for a year.  

In addition to reducing greenhouse gases, this regenerative agriculture approach also improves soil health, boosts water efficiency, and increases yields. 

Building a circular economy.

Almond farmers are committed to new uses of almond coproducts that can support a circular economy where every byproduct is an input for another product or valuable in its own right. 

Focusing on ideas that are a win-win for farmers and the planet, current research is exploring  using almond hull and shell components as growing medium for mushroom cultivation, producing feed sources for poultry, improving recyclables, soil amendments for almond orchards and other crops, supplemental winter food sources for honey bees and even for brewing beer. 

One promising area uses torrefaction, burning materials in the absence of oxygen, to transform almond shells into a charcoal-like material to be added to post-consumer recycled plastics, making them stronger and more heat stable. This new approach increases our ability to recycle existing plastic, resulting in less new plastic in the world.5 

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Spotlight On: Zero Waste
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2025 Goals: Zero Waste

1. Good news about almonds and heart health. Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. One serving of almonds (28 grams) has 13 grams of unsaturated fat and only 1 gram of saturated fat.
2. 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.
3. Brent Holtz, et al. Whole almond orchard recycling and the effect on second generation tree growth, yield, light interception and soil fertility. VII International Symposium on Almonds and Pistachios. 2017. 
4. Michael Wolff, et al. Whole Orchard Recycling report for the Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel. 2019.
5. Seth Wynes, et al. The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Research Letters. 2017.