Sixteen years after a controversial biodegradation plan allowed 1,000 truckloads of orange peels to be unloaded onto a barren, deforested area of Costa Rican land, a team of Princeton researchers has discovered unexpectedly positive results. The area that was covered with orange waste is now a lush, overgrown forest with richer soil and more tree species than the adjacent land that was untreated.
The Area de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG) is a World Heritage-listed and government-managed conservation area in northwestern Costa Rica. In the early 1990s, it was discovered that a large-scale orange plantation was being established on one of the ACG’s borders in order to sustain a new orange juice manufacturing plant called Del Oro.
In 1996, two ecologists from the University of Pennsylvania, who had worked for many years with the ACG, had a radical suggestion. What if the organic waste from the orange juice factory could be recycled to accelerate the reforestation of some barren spaces in the conservation area?
A deal was signed and the orange juice company dumped 12,000 metric tons of orange pulp and peels onto a three-hectare stretch of former cattle pasture. Many newly designated conservation areas in the ACG suffer from rocky, nutrient-poor soils due to the prominent history of overgrazing and fire-based land management in the region. The hope was that this plan would be the perfect synergy between industry and conservation.