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Better management of discarded produce could help forests regrow (upworthy.com)
268 points by moritzplassnig on Aug 26, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

The original paper is here: https://sci-hub.cc/10.1111/rec.12565

The original site was heavily degraded and was host to mostly a single species of invasive grass, introduced by ranchers for pasture. This invasive grass presumably was preventing native shrubs and other woody plants from re-establishing. The fruit company was permitted to dump 1000 truckloads of orange peels over 3 hectares (30,000 square meters) in exchange for donating 1,600 hectares of primary forest.

What's interesting is that the authors hypothesize that the acidity of the orange peels actually altered the soil pH enough to kill off all of the invasive grasses and allowed the native plants to reestablish themselves. Unfortunately the authors don't test this hypothesis directly, and the intertwined effects of {acidity, asphyxiation of invasive grasses by several tons of material, massive additional organic nutrient input} can't be teased out due to the experimental design. Though with effects like this, I'm sure restoration ecologists would be happy to receive 1600 Ha of old-growth forest in exchange for dumping rights on 3 Ha of disturbed pasture land, even if they don't know the exact mechanism.

Another possibility is that the soil was so degraded that only crummy grass could grow there. Perhaps the larger native plants, which are more complex organisms, need nutrients in greater quantities than the grass. So it's less about beating back the invasive grass and more about establishing necessary conditions for native growth. These more complex organisms then create shade canopy that other native species can thrive in (and which is bad for grass).

This is an extrapolation of my my experiences with composting. A greater number of plants can grow in rich soil, period.

Pioneer species are hardy species which are the first to colonize previously disrupted or damaged ecosystems, beginning a chain of ecological succession that ultimately leads to a more biodiverse steady-state ecosystem.[1] Some lichens grow on rocks without soil, so may be among the first of life forms, and break down the rock into soil for other plants.[2] Since some uncolonized land may have thin, poor quality soils with few nutrients, pioneer species are often hardy plants with adaptations such as long roots, root nodes containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and leaves that employ transpiration.[1]

Adding compost speeds the process along by adding nutrients and inoculating the soil with insects, bacteria, and fungi.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_species

Yes, this is what I was referring to when I mentioned "massive additional organic nutrient input". Unfortunately the authors experiment design isn't sufficient to show that this is the case since again there are other factors at play. But it's certainly a possibility.


The soil pH, while important in and of itself, seems like a bit of a red herring (or maybe a secondary story) when evaluating the macro-changes.

I must be missing something -- how is dumping rights on 3 hectares of some land worth 1600 hectares of other land? How could this possibly be a better deal for them than clearing 3 hectares of their land, dumping whatever they wanted to there, and selling the other 1597?

The company was going to build a multimillion dollar plant (1997 dollars) to process the waste. Instead they just gave away a bunch of land they weren't going to develop anyway.

Also just because you own some land doesn't mean it's legal to do whatever you want with it, especially industrial uses like dumping waste. Costa Rica is probably one of the better countries in terms of protecting its natural resources (compared to say, recent events in Brazil) so it's unlikely that they could have just ignored laws. I would encourage you to read the original paper, and in general always go for original sources; they are surprisingly readable if you know what you can skip and what you have to look up.

Is it possible that they'd be otherwise restricted from dumping, even on land that they own?

EDIT: the paper says:

"D.H.J. offered a different plan for the orange waste: biodegrade it on recently incorporated degraded pastureland within ACG. In return for this agricultural waste management, Del Oro could donate its forested land at the margins of ACG that it had no intention of cultivating, and eventually provide cash payments."

But I guess that doesn't really answer the question, hmm

Thank you for the link to the paper, a much better source. I was hoping to find an article by Sunkist on how they were helping to restore damaged prarie or something with their waste rinds and pulp but alas their web site is silent on that topic as far as I can find.

They effectively sheet mulched the area, which is an established practice.

Tangentially, if you want to reduce the waste that goes to landfill at your home, compost.

One of the best ways of composting that I know is bokashi. It works by a fermentation process. The biggest advantage of it is that you can put any organic matter into it, except maybe bones. Yes, you can even put meat, dairy, rice, pasta etc. in addition to fruit and vegetable matter. Once the bucket is full, let it ferment for a week, drain the liquid once a day, and then bury it. The fermenting for a week means that it breaks down much quicker in the ground. This means that all that waste becomes usable and useful to the bacteria and plants in the soil much much quicker than if you were to compost it the traditional way. It's a difference of weeks vs. months.

One of the biggest concerns is smell, but honestly it isn't so bad. Because it works by a fermentation process you need to keep the environment anaerobic i.e. lacking oxygen. That means keeping the bokashi bucket sealed most of the time, so you only need to smell it when you open the bucket to put your waste in once a day. Besides, the smell itself is as bad as you might expect. It's like a strong pickled smell, reminiscent of vinegar.

Also, the liquid that you drain can be used as a fertiliser. You just need to dilute it 1:100, and pore it at the base of the plants when watering.

I was recently effectively forced to compost, when my council changed the rubbish collections to only once every 2 weeks, while the recycling and compost collections occur weekly. This meant that if I didn't compost, I'd have smelly rubbish for two weeks at a time. It is indeed not that bad, the compost bin has a lid that keeps the smell and it has made me much more aware of how much food I waste and why.

If you have a lawn the best way is to skip the fancy products and instructions and just dump in a pile in the corner of your yard/garden.

I also have a geobin[1] and I love it. It appears to last forever, looks neater and works faster than a pile, and unloading or turning is a breeze since you just "unwrap" the compost.

Either route you go if you just dump organic matter in your pile you'll have rich compost at the bottom in a year of no effort (worse case 2 years if you put in a large quantity of tough, unshredded leaves like oak). If you know what you are doing and mix the right carbon/nitrogen ratio and water/turn it regularly you can have compost in months.

[1]: http://geobin123.com/using-geobin

Sources or directions? Highly interested in doing this. I have a decent garden going and I've been looking at options for composting.

It's a little corny but Austin Energy put out a youtube video with a good broad overview of composting. You'll have to ignore the Austin-specific content like the $75 rebate Austin Energy offers to subscribers that purchase a qualified composter:


Austin also offers in some parts of town curbside composting and we have a non-profit that also offers a compost pickup service. Those aren't likely to appeal to a gardener though.

I purchased a Yimby spin-composter which has worked great for composting organic material:


The assembly is a bit involved though, because you have to screw together all of the panels in the tumbler and the ends and the stand and the hardware. Just a head's up, lots of tedious screwing of the parts together but it is very sturdy.

Yes, I too would be interested in more details on how to implement the bokashi method of composting. I googled a bit but did not find detailed instructions, though will try again.

Doesn't that lead to a huge amount of salt getting in your soil?

At my buddies old house in Saratoga Ca, the soil in the backyard was super dry. What we ended up doing is just composting all the greens out back; watermelon shells, cantaloupe, onions, really just anything non-meat. To agitate the process we just went out with a shovel and stabbed the section out to make the compost smaller. By the time he sold the place the soil was super healthy.

Here is an article about this posted on Princetons news site (August 22nd):


It cites an interesting court case by a rival company that occurred after the contact to dump was signed:

"But a year after the contract was signed — during which time 12,000 metric tons of orange peels were unloaded onto the degraded land — TicoFruit, a rival company, sued, arguing the company had “defiled a national park.” The rival company won the case in front of Costa Rica’s Supreme Court, and the orange-peel-covered land was largely overlooked for the next 15 years."

The fact that this story of "dumped organic material composts and increases fertility" has gained so much reach really shows how disconnected we all are from nature.

Maybe the way for science to speak to the masses is to just pretend that every confirmation study is a brand new piece of science. "New study finds that reduced caloric intake causes weight loss!"

If you read the original study there's a bit more going on than how the article portrays it. In particular, this site was host to invasive grasses, and after the orange peel input the site was flourishing with native species. Simply introducing nutrients into a system isn't guaranteed to get rid of the invasive species, and in fact it might make the problem even worse, so the fact that this happened is quite interesting and there's probably some interaction between the soil properties, decomposers, and orange peels that made this particularly good outcome possible. See also my top-level comment for my original take on it.

Acidity of the peels affected the acidity of the soil.

This is what the authors hypothesized in the paper. They don't test it though so the causal link between orange peel acidity and forest restoration has not been established.

I'm not trying to state that as a fact. Just that the acidity was affected. Which could have affected the restoration in different ways, most likely by effects of plant affinity for soil acidity.

But I think that the main factor is simply the increase in biological matter.

It seems similar to the Miyawaki method, which also uses organic supplements for accelerated forest growth. Another guy who uses the technique: https://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/industrial-engin...

We're basically already there, it's how funding for a not inconsiderable number of studies is found.

"So wait a minute. What you're saying is that you want us to put water on the crops.


Water. Like out the toilet?

But brawndo's got what plants crave. It's got electrolytes."

This mirrors my experiencing gardening in Georgia. We have about half an inch of topsoil there, and below that is pure red clay with close to zero organic matter in it. If you want to have a garden, you add compost. I added a couple thousand pounds of well composted manure, and double tilled it to mix it in down to a couple of feet. The result was that I had loamy soil that grew vegetables like nobody's business.

Put enough compost on a plot and it will turn into a jungle, just like my garden did after I stopped tending it. I was afraid to go in there to pick tomatoes.

>Put enough compost on a plot and it will turn into a jungle, just like my garden did after I stopped tending it. I was afraid to go in there to pick tomatoes.

Why? Snakes maybe?

The orange peels contributed two things for certain, a large amount of nutrients and organic matter that would hold and trap moisture. Both of those are very conducive to high plant growth.

I do wish they had ph tested the soil before so we could know whether the orange peels altered the soils acidity.

The acids in orange peels are organic; they would have been consumed by soil microbes as a carbon source pretty quickly.

Burying the weeds under an impenetrable layer of mulch causes them to compost in place. The soil deepens and you get a blank slate to start over, more like a secondary succession forest.

Forests aren't always a panacea. Sure, rainforests mutually support others in similar tropic and subtropical bands with rainfall patterns, but in the melting tundra forests of Russia, there is an effort to deforest permafrost to keep it from melting using large herds of animals like bison or reindeer to kill the trees because plains are less insulated in winter than forests. Without restoration of tundra back to plains, it's likely larger swaths of land will melt and collapse into a moonscape.

Could you share any links on this? Sounds interesting.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/04/pleisto... talks about it at length, even if it's not the main subject.

From the title I was expecting something criminal.

As far as click bait goes, this is exactly like I want to see. It inspires curiosity in a way that doesn't feel predatory. I didn't feel robbed or deceived when it wasn't criminal, and the title was truthful to exactly what the article was.

I do think "here's what it looks like now" is more predatory than either "it regrew beautifully" or "it is now a desert wasteland". Either of those would have made me more willing to click. More information in the title does not detract from clicks to interesting articles. Only useless junk needs clickbait titles for the clicks.

more generally, densely planted trees can use a wide variety of biomass sources for compost: https://fellowsblog.ted.com/how-to-grow-a-forest-really-real...

Wonder if this would be good for where major wildfires have been such as the Lake and Butte fires in California in 2015 - the places where it burned strongest consumed all organic matter in the soil...

Ugh. The result of this may be good, but please don't let this be an excuse to dump your organic waste on trails instead of packing it out.

Ok, I'll bite. So is it better for organic waste to rot in a plastic bag in a landfill? or be left outside where it can rot down & degrade. Isn't it better to pitch your apple cores, food & bio-waste etc. into the woods? Surely the only things to pack out would be non-biodegradeable stuff; packaging etc.

Every time I run trails, I see little blue or black poop bags left all over by dog owners (they never ever come back to pick them up!). Somehow I feel like it would be better if they just let their dogs crap in the woods as nature intended (not on the trails, but it can be flicked into the brush) so I don't have to look at the poop bags.

In some cases maybe it would be better off in a landfill. Any time you introduce something foreign into an environment there could be unintended consequences. I think it would be better to always pack out everything you pack in.

Throwing things that could be eaten by wild animals near trails or roads could draw animals closer to humans, having some unfortunate unintentional consequences.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating tossing food trash in the woods, but what's the difference between someones mostly eaten sandwich and an expired squirrel? or apples dropping from the apple tree (which they are doing right now!).

Isn't that what wild animals do? scavengers will scavenge?

(again, to be clear, this is not feeding the "Yellowstone bears" from the car window in the 60s, this is bits & pieces of scraps of food or bio-waste here and there in the woods).

Are we not part of nature?

Beehive = Nature

Anthill = Nature

City = Somehow magically separate from nature

I think it was originally because of God, and now it's just inertia.

Compostable and readily biodegradable alternatives to plastic are widely available, corn starch say. I think the solution is to legislate on manufacture - 50% tax on sale value unless it can be proven that plastic is the only viable material.

[Non-recyclable food packaging needs to go the same way, tax them in to change or bankruptcy.]

Didn't people used to just "kerb their dogs", ie get them to shit in the gutter or off the path. Why is that so hard?

> “We don’t want companies to go out there will-nilly just dumping their waste all over the place, but if it’s scientifically driven and restorationists are involved in addition to companies, this is something I think has really high potential,” Treuer says.

Its all about proper management of inputs and outputs. The best part is, it doesn't take much to use a raw input like food scrapes, you literally just toss them on a pile.

Grass clippings, Leaves, and other yard waste are the biggest input we humans like to truck around aimlessly. Chop and drop in a semi organized way, and you too can grow a forest.


Grow food closer to face

this is a ridiculous title.

Maybe there's a better source for this somewhere than 'blogspam copy of a clickbait site'.

Ok, we'll change the URL to that god help us from http://www.the-daily-llama.com/2017/08/23/a-juice-company-du....

For revenge, and to follow https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html, we've changed the title to the most boringly representative phrase from the article.

I feel like the original paper, as linked further up, might do a better job at allowing you to not have to link to Upworthy.

That's what I said.

Alternate headline: A web click farm discovers composting

I wonder what would happen if a bunch of candy bars were dumped?

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