The cultivation of olives and the production of olive oil have deep roots in the history of Mediterranean region. Nowadays, this tradition represents a very important asset for many countries, not only in terms of culture and health, but also in spite of wealth. However, olive oil production is accompanied with the generation of huge amounts of by-products and waste that leave a congested environmental footprint.
These materials are undesirable for the olive oil industry in terms of sustainability and environmental impact, but perhaps more important in view of high disposal costs. Therefore, they have been considered as a matter of minimization, prevention and treatment for as many decades as olive oil industrial production exists. Indeed, the proposed treatment methods and the respective literature and references are endless.
Despite this fact, olive oil industry remains unsustainable, with few opposite examples that confirm this rule of thumb. Why is this happening? Is it a matter of inadequate treatment technologies or is it about cost? Olive oil is a sector challenged by many directions. Consumers demand extra virgin olive oils of ultra-high quality, product’s final price varies a lot from time to time and local authorities demand from production units to reduce their environmental impact. Under these conditions, even cheap solutions that promise the total treatment of olive mill waste may collapse financially olive oil industries.
Consequently, most treatment solutions have been rejected in practice due to industries’ denial that claim to close down production and society’s tolerance that delays the enforcement of environmental legislations implementation. Can olive oil industries overpass environmental legislations forever? Does this consideration fall in the frame of the modern bioeconomy? Can they adapt any alternative strategies? The urgent need for sustainability within olive oil industry has turned the interest of researchers and professionals to investigate the management of olive mill waste with another perspective. This resource contains valuable components such as water, organic compounds and a wide range of nutrients that could be recycled.
The prospect of recycling ingredients from olive mill waste is a story that started few decades ago. For instance, solvent extraction had been applied to recover oil from olive kernel, which is one of the by-products derived from olive oil production. Nowadays, olive kernel is considered an established commodity similarly to olive fruit, whereas scientists focus on the recovery of polyphenols, the reutilization of irrigation water, as well as the production of compost to be used as soil amendment. Subsequently, there is a need for a new guide covering the latest developments in this particular direction.
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