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The University Of Cordoba Participates In A European Project On Sustainable Olive Oil And Table Olives Production

The University of Cordoba and the olive oil cooperative Virgen del Castillo, located in the town of Carcabuey, are participating in INASOOP, a European project whose aim is to develop environmental standards for the production of olive oil and table olives. Indeed, several specialised olive-oil mills and research institutes are working on this project, and they are from the different European olive-oil producing countries such as Italy, Germany, Greece and Portugal.

Participants trust they can improve the environmental situation of olive mills thus allowing them to meet the current and future legislation; they also intend to offer a better trade image of those olive mills that decide to apply the environmental quality standards by providing an added value to their products, and to increase the general knowledge by giving a new twist to the increasing competitiveness. The University of Cordoba will explain their experience in the fields of waste treatment, physic-chemical purification and the development of subproducts resulting from olive trees.

In order to do so, the project participants will gather all the information they have which analyses all the data on the production process and treatment methods for olive oil waste and table olives, their costs, the infrastructure that is available in the participating regions, the different environmental laws, etc, thus allowing an exchange of experiences among the EU’s olive producing countries.

In addition to this, INASOOP will develop a series of unified environmental standards and a system that can provide guidelines which can help olive mills and table olive industries to meet the suggested standards. These two ‘products’ will be translated at least into Italian, Spanish, Greek and Portuguese to make sure they are well understood. The training for small and medium-sized companies, as well as producer associations, on the environmental problems related to the production of olive oil and table olives, together with the possible solutions and environmental quality standards, are the aims of this European project.

As a result of this, small and medium-sized olive mills and olive seasoning industries will know the environmental regulations, improve their trade image thanks to a characteristic label made according to the suggested standards, encourage the economic management of their business by applying valuation alternatives to their waste (for example, energy valuation, re-use of the water treated in the production processes, extraction of substances with an economic value, etc) or by reducing their consumption (water and/or energy) if this is possible.

A key sector

As daily consumed products in the Mediterranean area, the production of olive oil and table olives is an important agro-alimentary sector in Europe. Almost 9.7 million tons of table olives are produced every year, of which 1.9 million tons of olive oil are obtained in about 12,000 olive mills, most of them small and medium sized companies. This means that the EU is the highest producer of olive oil in the world (80% of the world’s total) and employs over 800,000 people in Europe. In the case of table olives, the European Union is also the main producer (40-45%), with the last olive harvests showing figures of about 400 and 500 thousand tons, and a total world’s production of 1.0-1.3 million tons (International Olive Oil Council). This sector is made up of about 600 companies in the European Union.

As a result of olive oil’s beneficial properties for the health, its consumption and that of table olives, shows an increasing trend all over the world (the growth rate is expected to be between 3.5 and 4% per year for each product, according to the International Olive Oil Council). From the production point of view, new plantations and optimised irrigation technologies allow to meet this increasing demand.

However, the extremely pollutant waste generated by both types of industries (over 10 million tons of olive oil and about 1 million tons coming from table olives, yearly in Europe), poses serious problems to the companies involved, specially in the case of small and medium-sized companies. In fact, more and more restrictive environmental legislations are suggested, as well as the need to compete with other Mediterranean countries and new producers (for example, Australia, the USA and South American countries). Many small and medium-sized olive mills and olive seasoning industries could be forced to close down in the next few years due to their inability to properly treat their waste.

Ismael Gaona | alfa
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