The peel of fruit and vegetables is loaded with nutrients our body could benefit from. Two ecologists, Winnie Hallwachs and Daniel Janzen had more than a hunch that the peel would benefit the soil too. And so, in 1997, the two made a proposition that would lead to an incredible discovery.
The ecologists visited an orange juice company based in Costa Rica. They asked their bosses to donated a part of their forest land to the Área de Conservación Guanacaste. The ecologists told them that they could throw the peels and pulp there without having to pay.
The ecologists left this land to be. They did mark its location with “yellow lettering” just to remind themselves where it was, but other than that, it was forgotten for over a decade. Then, 16 years later, Janzen sent one of his graduate students, Timothy Treuer, to go visit the site and see what he finds.
The student was instructed that there was “yellow lettering” that would indicate where the spot was. After searching and calling Janzen again, the student still couldn’t find the right spot. After much prodding and searching, the student realized that he was in the right spot, it was the land that had changed.
Treuer explains how the difference was like “night and day…. It was just hard to believe that the only difference between the two areas was a bunch of orange peels. They look like completely different ecosystems.”
Where the orange peels and pulp were dumped, the land was richer and more varied. “The vegetation was so incredibly thick.” In fact, it was incredibly hard to find the sign which indicated they were in the right spot.
Treuer and the rest of the Princeton team spent three years studying this new land. They would be “astounded” by what they would learn. The land without orange peel had “only one dominant species of tree. On the side with the discarded orange peels, there were over two dozen species of thriving vegetation.”
The soil was better on the orange peel land. It was “a healthier forest canopy.” There were larger and stronger trees. Even “a new species of weasel appeared — all because of the discarded fruit from over a decade ago.”
“You could have had 20 people climbing in that tree at once and it would have supported the weight no problem...That thing was massive,” writes the co-author of this study. But the study would prove more than the importance of orange peels.
The study concluded “that a secondary forest growth, one that grows after the first is torn down, is crucial to slowing down climate change. This was a game-changing discovery. They have found that new-growth forests absorb and store carbon in the atmosphere at 11 times the rate of an old-growth forest.”
Now Treur wants to see this transformation happening all over the world. “If we can replicate this experiment all over the world, it could help the world’s atmosphere restore itself.” Just think, “Up to half of produce in the United States is discarded in landfills — adopting this idea across the country could help deforested areas across the nation.”
“We don’t want companies to go out there willy-nilly just dumping their waste all over the place,” Treuer continues. “But if it’s scientifically driven and restorationists are involved in addition to companies, this is something I think has really high potential.”
It was in 2015, almost 20 years after it was placed, that Treuer found the sign marking the location spot. This was significant. It proved the magnitude of the change and how incredible this experiment was. Moral of the story: don’t throw away that peel. Recycle, people! Recycle!