The Peel-to-Cup Orange Juice Bar

Feature Story

Putting together a fresh meal from scratch adds so much to its taste, and gives a warm satisfactory afterglow. In the future, can we also anticipate making the crockery and cutlery on demand to accompany these meals? Some designers in Italy certainly think so.

A dome consisting of 1500 shining oranges suspended 3-metres above the ground is going to get attention. Knowing the machinery below the dome provides freshly squeezed orange juice, explains the surrounding queue. But, discovering that this juice stand is actually a miniature food processing and cup manufacturing plant, well that is harder to get your head around. Dubbed Feel the Peel, this example of hyper-localised up-cycling is helping to reshape our understanding of how to make best use of the resources at our disposal.

Feel the Peel operates on a seamless mixture of old and new methodologies. Gravity-fed oranges from the canopy are automatically halved and squeezed, before making their way to the base of the juice stand for drying of the skins. After they are suitably dehydrated, the skins are then powdered and mixed with Polylactic Acid (PLA), an organic plastic compound, to create the bio-plastic filament used to manufacture cups to dispense the orange juice.

At the heart of this automated juice squeezer is a 3-D printer that, before your eyes, prints concentric layer upon layer of bio-plastic filament to create a little cup in which to dispense the freshly squeezed juice. Fill a cup, and the cycle gets kicked off once more. The orange PLA cups can also be washed, disinfected and reused several times before returning to the earth as compost, hopefully to fertilize an orange grove.

Commissioned by Italian energy giant Eni, the CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati design and innovation office developed Feel the Peel as an experiment in circular design. "The principle of circularity is a must for today's objects," says Carlo Ratti, founding partner at CRA and director of MIT's SENSEable City Lab. "Working with Eni, we tried to show circularity in a very tangible way, by developing a machine that helps us to understand how oranges can be used well beyond their juice."

This project is the one of a series of collaborations between CRA and Eni that explore circularity and design with different materials. Among the previous projects, the prize-winning Circular Garden at Milan Design Week 2019 used mycelium from mushrooms as a recyclable building material, and the circular restaurant at the 2018 Maker Faire in Rome explored how Solid Urban Waste (FORSU) from food processing, such as frying oil, could produce a second generation biofuel, and polystyrene was recycled for use in the heat insulation sector. Plans are also underway for even more usage of orange peel, coffee grounds, and mycelium as construction materials.

The Feel the Peel prototype is still owned and used by Eni, but interest in the project remains very high, and it is attracting commercial attention. CRA's plans, however, are not stopping at the juice-to-cup cycle. With an eye to the future, Rati notes that "The next iterations of Feel the Peel might include new functions, such as printing fabric for clothing from orange peels."