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In the mid-1990s, 1,000 truckloads of sticky orange peels and orange pulp were unloaded onto a barren piece of land in a Costa Rican national park. Today, that same barren land has been transformed into a lush forest.

This story, shared on the Princeton website, is an example of what can happen when agricultural waste is allowed to work its organic magic on degraded land.

The story starts with husband-wife team Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs, both ecologists at the University of Pennsylvania, who worked as researchers and technical advisers at Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG, Guanacaste Conservation Area) in Costa Rica for many years.

In 1997, Janzen and Hallwachs presented Del Oro, an orange juice manufacturer with an innovative idea: If Del Oro would donate part of its forested land to the Área de Conservación Guanacaste, the juice company could deposit its orange peel waste for biodegradation, at no cost, on degraded land within the park.

A deal was struck and in the first year, some 12,000 metric tons of orange pulp and peels were dumped on a piece of wasteland. Because of legal complications (a rival company sued Del Oro for “defiling a national park”), the plot now covered with mountains of orange peels and pulp lay largely forgotten until a team led by Princeton University researchers went back and inspected the area 16 years later.

They were astonished at what they found and also at what they couldn’t find.

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Daniel Janzen & Winnie Hallwachs

There was a 176 percent increase in aboveground biomass (the wood in the trees) within the 3-hectare area studied, but in the overgrowth that had established itself in the interim, the original signpost to mark the area had completely disappeared.

“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.

Daniel Janzen & Winnie Hallwachs

“I knew we needed to come up with some really robust metrics to quantify exactly what was happening and to back up this eye-test, which was showing up at this place and realizing visually how stunning the difference was between fertilized and unfertilized areas.”

Treuer and a team of researchers from Princeton University studied the site and compared it to an adjacent site. They found the site that was composted with orange waste was in a far better state in every aspect. It had greater biodiversity, richer soil, and a better-developed canopy,

Their paper, “Low-Cost Agricultural Waste Accelerates Tropical Forest Regeneration,” was published in Restoration Ecology. The research results speak to how ordinary agricultural waste resulting from industrial activities can be used to restore an area that had been severely impacted by human enterprise.

Leave nature to herself, don’t interfere and she will return to her previous glory. If mankind for some reason had to disappear off the face of the earthy today, Mother Nature is bound to recover from our bad behavior.

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