Twenty years ago tons of nutrient-rich food waste were dumped onto deforested land, and the incredible results of this experiment are strong evidence for replenishing more ecosystems in the same way. This once fallow land now has greater biodiversity, richer soil, and a better natural tree canopy then any of the old forests in the area. It was in 1997 that ecologists Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs approached an orange juice company in Costa Rica with their unconventional idea to use food waste to enrich land. The company agreed, and they sent one thousand truckloads (12,000 metric tons) of sticky, mealy, orange compost into the national park to be dumped onto a huge worn-out plot of pastureland.
Fast forward to 2017, and this entire zone is much thicker with trees and vegetation than land lying next to it. The growth was so abundant that it took many days just to find the sign that marks the site – it was covered with vines, bushes and wild flowers. This result is highly encouraging for many parts of the world where there’s a need to replenish local soil with the nutrients that allow ecosystems to restore themselves. In addition, recent evidence suggests that secondary tropical forests – those that grow after the original trees are gone – are essential to helping slow climate change as they absorb and store eleven times more atmospheric carbon than old-growth forests. Considering that in the US alone up to half of food waste is discarded into landfills, it may be time to rethink where this waste goes, and to embrace its potential for improving the environment.