Cleaning Up the Olive Oil Business in Syria

olive groves iznik turkey photo

Olive groves near İznik, Turkey.

Groves of olive trees, cultivated for more than 7,000 years, help define the Mediterranean landscape, but mass production of olive oil in the region is contributing to environmental pollution, according to a recent report from Syria, the world's fifth largest producer of olive oil.

The 700,000 cubic meters of wastewater created annually by Syria's 920 processing mills is often discarded by being pumped out, untreated, onto the land near the facilities. "This wastewater contains polythenols, which provide the natural green and black coloring of olives. However, they are chemicals, which, when spread in large quantities, change environmental conditions and cause a reduction in soil fertility," environment expert Marwan Dimashki told IRIN. "Contaminated water becomes undrinkable. It goes brown and smelly and contains chemicals bad for human consumption."

Solid residue left over from the processing of olive oil, known as pomace, can also change the composition of the soil when not disposed of properly.

Education and Remediation
A lack of awareness about the impacts of such practices, as well as a lack of money to buy treatment equipment, are said to be the main barriers to cleaning up the country's industry -- and have been among the problems tackled by a 1.7 million euro project to clean up the olive-oil industry in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Funded by the United Nations Development Programme and the European Commission, the three-year effort concludes at the end of this month.

The project registered olive mills and educated owners about how and why they should be treating wastewater; it also helped them identify ways to turn this waste into an asset, as at the Massalme Brothers Mill in Dar'a, in southern Syria, where the owners dry and sell their pomace to be turned into olive-oil soap. This month is expected to see a mobile wastewater treatment plant introduced on a trial basis, starting in Tartous on the Syrian coast, at one of the most polluting mills in the country. Via: "Syria: Cleansing the olive oil business," Arab Environment Watch

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