In 1997 a husband and wife ecologist had an extreme idea. They told an orange juice manufacturer they could dump their waste on the degraded land of a Costa Rican national park. In return, the company, Del Oro, would donate part of it’s forested land to the Guanacaste Conservation Area in Costa Rica.
The contract was signed, and 12,000 metric tons of orange peels were unloaded on the national park’s degraded land.
The ecologist, Daniel Janzen, and Winnie Hallwachs worked as researchers and advisors for the park and thought at the time, that the dumping could have a positive ecological impact.
However, a rival company, TicoFruit, sued, arguing the company had defiled a national park. TicoFruit won the case, and the orange peel wasteland was forgotten about–until now.
“The site was more impressive in person than I could’ve imagined,”
-Jonathan Choi, Princeton University
A research team led by Princeton University began surveying the land in 2013 and after a three-year study, they found a 176% increase in aboveground biomass. Their results were recently published in the journal Restoration Ecology.
Co-lead author of the study, Timothy Treuer says “It’s not just a win-win between the company and the local park — it’s a win for everyone.”
Jonathan Choi worked with Treuer and wrote his thesis on the research. “The site was more impressive in person than I could’ve imagined,” Choi said in a Princeton Edu. article. “While I would walk over exposed rock and dead grass in the nearby fields, I’d have to climb through undergrowth and cut paths through walls of vines in the orange peel site itself.”
The researchers found that the areas covered in the orange peels had more fertile soil and a fuller forest canopy.
Treuer believes that better management of discarded produce could be vital in helping forests regrow.
In the United States, half of U.S. produce is thrown away and much of it ends up in a landfill. One has to ask if there’s not a better place for the waste to thrive?
The paper, “Low-Cost Agricultural Waste Accelerates Tropical Forest Regeneration,” was published July 28 in Restoration Ecology.