Harvesting olives in the North of The Galilee Sea. Harvesting olives in the North of The Galilee Sea. Harvesting olives in the North of The Galilee Sea. Later on these Olives will be pressed in Olea-Essence Olive Oil Press in the Golan Heights. (Photo: Courtesy Olea Essence)

How one man turned olive oil waste into a popular household cleaner for Whole Foods

The story of how an accidental discovery solved an environmental problem and created eco-friendly products at the same time.

Avner Talmon got interested in olives in 1997 after a horseback ride near Israel's Sea of Galilee took him past a 30-acre piece of property. He instantly fell in love with the farmland. Luckily, it was for sale, and soon he was planting olives and making olive oil.

A decade later, he and his family were quite busy. "We found ourselves farming, pressing for oil, R&D and manufacturing," said Talmon.

Like other producers, he had to deal with the olive wastewater generated in the process, a dark liquid that is so high in antioxidants that it can act as a pollutant for local water supplies. So it's collected and piped into holding tanks. At one point, Talmon tried to fix a leaking hose, and it ended up drenching him. "It was ugly and dirty, but I noticed that after I cleaned myself off, my skin felt better," Talmon told From The Grapevine about that eureka moment.

Interested in his innovations, Whole Foods came to visit Talmon's farm in Israel in 2011. As the Whole Foods team listened to his presentation about using the olive water and the properties of the vinegar, one of them pointed to the dark liquid in another room of the lab and asked about it. Talmon explained that it was a natural cleaner made from olive oil vinegar that they had created and patented.

Whole Foods was very interested in that.

So Talmon developed 10 different items from what was considered a waste product. The product line includes all-natural skin cleansers and exfoliants – known as the Olea Essence line – and household cleaners, which he called Eco Olea.

After two years of testing by the nonprofit organization Green Seal, Eco Olea was certified "Green" on Whole Foods' scale of eco-friendliness, its highest rating. Customers can now find bottles of Olea lining the shelves of their local Whole Foods store.

An accidental discovery led to these popular cleaning products now sold at Whole Foods.An accidental discovery led to these popular cleaning products now sold at Whole Foods. (Photo: Courtesy Olea Essence)

And that olive wastewater? "We are using it all since Whole Foods started to buy our Eco Olea Green cleaning products," said Talmon. In fact, they are now asking other nearby farmers for their wastewater to use in their products.

"We farm and press our olives to get extra virgin olive oil, use the olive oil and reuse the residue to create Olea Essence skin care and bathroom lines. The more we distribute, the more residue is reused."

And, to think, it all started with Talmon falling in love with a farm in Israel and being drenched in olive waste.

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