From bags for bunches to corner boards for pallets: recycling banana plastic in Peru

L. Clercx, D. Balarezo Camminati, M. Carreño Zapata, R. Voerman
In banana cultivation for export, plastic bags are hung around the young bunch. This way, a microclimate is created inside the bag, which makes the bananas in the bunch grow better. The bag also protects the bunch from birds and insects. These do not affect the eating quality of the fruit, but feed, scrape or oviposit on the peel, leaving behind small superficial scratches, spots, or scars. However, the supermarkets pursue what is called ‘cosmetic quality’: with the iconic perfect yellow banana as example, and handle ‘zero tolerance’ for these defects. But this beauty comes with a price: the massive use of plastic bunch bags; and, in the conventional, non-organic banana production, bunch bags impregnated with insecticides are used. Not many consumers know this. In Peru’s small export banana sector alone, some 20 million bunch bags are used annually, totalling 400 tons of plastic. The bag can only be used once, after which it becomes waste. Recycling of this plastic is practiced in some banana countries (such as in Costa Rica), but in most cases and in Peru, these bunch bags are thrown away (ending in landfills), buried, burned, or just left behind in plantations or along roads, with a high risk of cumulative pollution of land-based ecosystems with (micro)plastics. Together with banana producer organizations and the Banana Cluster in Peru, AgroFair founded the company ‘Grupo ECOBAN S.R.L.’, that started to recycle banana plastic to manufacture corner boards for pallets, early 2022. We will explore the challenges of collecting and processing used banana bunch bags, the business model of the factory and the perspectives to extend its operations, to make banana production for export more sustainable.
Clercx, L., Balarezo Camminati, D., Carreño Zapata, M. and Voerman, R. (2023). From bags for bunches to corner boards for pallets: recycling banana plastic in Peru. Acta Hortic. 1367, 331-338
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2023.1367.38
bunch bags, Peru, recycling banana plastic, small scale

Acta Horticulturae