Juice Company Dumped Orange Peels In A Deforested Area—Here’s What It Looks Like After 16 Years

Two ecologists from the University of Pennsylvania approached an orange juice company in Costa Rica. They proposed that if the company donated a piece of land to a national park, they could dump their orange peels there for free. Years later, Princeton University researchers returned to the land only to find an orange peel forest.

The orange peel experiment was first proposed in 1997 by Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs. The Del Oro juice company would dump only their organic waste, which was comprised of orange peels and pulp, into a specific area of the Guanacaste Conservation Area (GCA). 12,000 metric tons of orange peels were dumped into the designated area.

However, a rival juice company challenged the experiment, saying the organic waste was ruining the park. That company won their case, and a judge ordered that the dumping be stopped. The orange peel reforestation effort was overlooked for 15 years until a Princeton University researcher named Tim Treuer took a trip to the orange peel forest.

Treuer was visiting Costa Rica for research when he spoke with Hallwachs and decided to visit the experimental site. Upon his return, he found that not only was the orange peel reforestation effort working, the orange peel forest was thriving. Compared to the surrounding area, the orange peel forest had far richer soil and greater tree biomass.

“It was so completely overgrown with trees and vines that I couldn’t even see the 7-foot-long sign with bright yellow lettering marking the site that was only a few feet from the road,” Treuer said of his trip back to the orange peel forest. He and Jonathan Choi, another Princeton student, began measuring growth within the area of the orange peel experiment.

Treuer and Choi found that the forest canopy was healthier, that the trees had grown much larger and stronger, and that even a new species of weasel had appeared in the area. “You could have had 20 people climbing in that tree at once and it would have supported the weight no problem,” said Choi, “that thing was massive.”

Overall, the study found a 176% increase in aboveground biomass. The orange peel forest was also able to sequester a much greater amount of carbon from the atmosphere. When compared to the surrounding area, the success of the orange peel reforestation was apparent. The team of researchers behind the study hope to apply the idea of using biological waste to restore the environment to other business sectors.

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