Towards a circular economy in virgin olive oil production: Valorization of the olive mill waste (OMW) "alpeorujo" through polyphenol recovery with natural deep eutectic solvents (NADESs) and vermicomposting.Sci Total Environ. 2023 May 10; 872:162198.ST
Virgin olive oil (VOO) production generates large amounts of a harmful by-product, olive mill waste (OMW) or alpeorujo, which has a strong environmental impact and that must be recycled to adapt VOO production to a circular economy model. Here, the valorization of OMW was studied by considering three consecutive stages: Stage 1 involves the generation of OMW; Stage 2 the recovery of bioactive phenolic compounds from the fresh OMW using natural deep eutectic solvents (NADESs), generating a valuable phenolic extract and a new by-product, a dephenolized OMW named "alpeoNADES"; and Stage 3 involves vermicomposting alpeoNADES with Eisenia fetida earthworms. Six NADES were formulated and tested, selecting a NADES composed of citric acid and fructose (CF) derived from food grade and biodegradable substances. CF was the most effective solvent to obtain phenolic extracts for nutraceutical and agronomical purposes, extracting 3988.74 mg/kg of polyphenols from fresh OMW. This alpeoNADES is a non-palatable substrate for E. fetida earthworms, as the residual CF gives it an acidic pH (pH 2). Its palatability was improved by mixing it with horse manure and straw for vermicomposting, in a 1:1 and 3:1 dry weight ratio. When these substrates were precomposted for 3 weeks they reached pH 5.5-6 and they could then be vermicomposted for 23 weeks (using OMW as a control). The best substrate for vermicomposting was determined by the worm biomass, growth rate, carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio, and N and P content. AlpeoNADES and manure 3:1 produced the highest quality vermicompost in the shortest time, generating a product that complied with European standards for organic fertilizers. Hence, alpeoNADES was recycled to a low-cost, organic balanced fertilizer in Stage 3, enabling the olive oil industry to transition to sustainable production through this integrated circular economy design.