Each year, Dole grows billions of bananas—the world’s most popular fruit—along with other produce. But not all of those billions of bananas end up as food: Some portion of them are lost along the supply chain, wasting energy, money, and nutrients. And the company also generates waste from the parts of the fruit that don’t get eaten. In the next five years, the company plans to eliminate those losses entirely.
In R&D labs, the company is now exploring ways to turn pineapple skins and banana leaves into packaging, developing new snacks from misshapen produce that grocery stores don’t want, and processing excess waste in biogas facilities that turn food into electricity to power its processing plants.
The company launched several new goals today, including a plan to eliminate fossil-based plastic packaging by 2025 and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 through steps such as moving to clean energy on farms and testing electric trucks for delivery. But its goal to move to zero fruit loss by 2025 is one key.
“If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming,” says Dole president Pier Luigi Sigismondi. “This is absolutely important, as it is connected and interdependent in many ways. When we waste fruit or food, we also waste all the energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport, and package it. And if it goes to the landfill and rots, it produces methane—a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide.”
Right now, some “ugly” fruit is lost because strict cosmetic standards in the industry mean that it can’t easily be sold. “As an industry, we have to both set different standards and persuade consumers that just because something looks wonky does not mean it is not tasty or nutritious,” he says. Some startups in the space, such as Imperfect Foods, already are beginning to source less-than-flawless fruit from Dole. Other fruit is wasted because it’s damaged during harvest or in the supply chain. The company is researching ways to “upcycle” any fruit that can’t be sold whole into snacks, drinks, and other potential products, including cosmetics and skincare.
Parts of plants that aren’t typically used now will find new uses. The company is working with partners on new compostable packaging that can be made from pulp from banana leaves or pineapple skins. “Our ultimate goal is to convert all our plastic packaging into biodegradable solutions that kids can convert into containers with seeds that can be used entirely in public or private gardens,” Sigismondi says. Pineapple cores, which are rich in such nutrients as vitamin C and manganese, may be turned into new snacks and powders.
The steps won’t completely eliminate waste—for now, the company is focused on fruit lost between farms and grocery stores and isn’t considering how retailers and consumers can also waste less produce (one study found that bananas are the most wasted food inside grocery stores). It also hasn’t yet quantified how much fruit is lost in its own supply chain. But it’s clear that changing the supply chain will help. The whole produce industry needs to move in the same direction, Sigismondi says. “The ultimate goal is to see these changes becoming an industry standard.”