288 kg/min – Bananas part 1

Business as usual: In september I found a lot of different fruits and vegetables in the waste of supermarkets. However it’s much more exciting to see what I didn’t find: Look at the picture in the lower left corner. There are no bananas! And that’s an exception. Bananas are the kind of fruit which is littered most frequently.

With a few clicks I found out: German supermarkets throw away 288 kg of bananas – per minute[1]! And that’s why I decided to put this scary number in the heading and to devote the banana an article.

The banana (Musa)

Banana

We are only pretending to know the banana. In reality, there isn’t one kind of banana but more than 70 different kinds of bananas[2]. Other sources claim that there are 400 edible kinds of bananas[3]. They all have their origin in South East Asia. However today the EU countries import most of their bananas from Ecuador(21%), Columbia (18%) and Costa Rica (19%)[4].

In their countries of origin people use banana trees in a multifunctional way: They don’t only eat them as a fruit but also use them in main dishes. The leaves of some kinds of bananas can even be used for textiles!

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The cultivation of bananas

Banana trees can grow up to 6 metres and look like real trees. In the strict sense they are perennial herbs as you can see in the picture above. There is no wooden trunk! When the perennial herb is big enough, it starts to bloom. Then the banana clusters ripe. One of these clusters can consist of 200 single bananas[5]! They grow, bending themselves towards the warm tropical sun. And that’s why bananas are twisted. All the bananas are harvested when they are green – whether they are eaten in the country of origin or exported. During the process of ripening the banana coverts starch into sugar[6][7].

For the exports the producers check bananas for size, diameter, curvature and colour. In this german source it says “only immaculate fruits which fit the strict rules of the importers are prepared for the transport” [8]. The workers cut little banana bunches out of the big banana clusters. Packed and load in huge refrigerator ships the importers transport the bananas over the atlantic ocean towards European ports. Now you can easily figure out the end of the story: The banana is further transported with trucks to the central warehouse of the supermarket chain. Finally you see the banana in a store.

After this long journey remind yourself of the beginning of this text: “German supermarkets throw away 288 kg of bananas – per minute[9]!”

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Numbers and facts concerning the “use of bananas” in Europe

The number of imported bananas in the EU-27 grew from 2000 to 2011 from 3 890 000 tons to 4 603 000 tons. 18,55% of these were used in Germany (2011) [10]!

When supermarkets in germany waste really 288 kg (=0,288 t) bananas per minute, that’s 0,288*60*24*360=149 299,2 tons of wasted bananas per year! That’s 17,48% of Germanys aggregated banana import.

Note: The result of this little calculation doesn’t fit exactly concerning the periods of time when the numbers were estimated. The import numbers are from 2011 and the quantity of wasted bananas from 2017. Unfortunately I couldn’t find statistics for wasted bananas for 2011. The aggregated import of bananas is probably risen further[11].

And not only the retail stores throw away bananas. With the wasted bananas from private households and keeping in mind the number of bananas which has been rejected because of size, curvature etc. we see a higher percentage of wasted fruits: According to this source[12], an overall of 30% of the imported german bananas are actually thrown away.

Why do so many bananas end up in trash?

Why do we see such a high number of imported bananas, when such a high number of them ends up in trash? I am going to point out the reasons for this in further texts. Now I describe reasons why bananas are wasted.

1.If you store a banana in your kitchen for some days, you recognise little brown points on the banana skin which grow bigger and bigger. For the retail that’s already a criterion to reject the banana. Really often I find such bananas in the container. They are in no case unenjoyable or addled! The opposite’s the case: They taste perfectly fine in different dishes. Even if the whole shell is brown, you can usually still eat the interior.

The problem is that most of the consumers aren’t familiar with bananas. No wonder: Through their own experience in everyday’s life consumers mean to know how a banana has to look like. They only see yellow, 14 cm long perfect bananas in the store!

The retail stores, the consumers, but also the criteria for bananas in the EU contribute to the waste of bananas which are still edible.

2.In the supermarket consumers often only buy a part of a bunch of bananas because most of them don’t want to buy the whole bunch. Single fruits stay in the store and nobody wants to buy them[13]. I often find single bananas in the container however I never noticed this phenomenum concerning other fruits&vegetables (e.g. tomatoes).

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14-2,7-green? Who has the perfect body? Concerning human beings that’s individual today. Concerning bananas not.

3.If an importer wants to import bananas in the EU, they have to be “ minimum 14 centimetres long and 2,7 cm thick, they must not have any injuries and they must not be ripened so they still can be transported and further ripened”[14] This explains the number of bananas which are rejected and can’t be exported into the EU. The norms concerning the measures of bananas have been developed in 1993. The target of this “Bananenmarktregulierung” (Banana market regulation) was the empowering of the competitiveness of European bananas[15]. However the legislators couldn’t achieve this goal as you can see in the percentages of banana import countries today.

The norm for the size was created to protect the consumers from inferior bananas[16]. The legislators might have an objective reason to acceptile the norm at this time.

However: If a consumer thinks little bananas are inferior I think he should go to the retail store with a ruler and measure the bananas. Why is a 13,3 entimetres long banana worse than a 14,01 centimetres long banana? A consumer weighs the bananas anyway before he pays them.

Such useless rules not only erode the diversity of bananas (or other fruits) but also make your shopping very boring. We as consumers only see bananas, apples or pears (or prices per kilo) instead of the beauty of this variety which nature gave us!

How many kinds of apples (or bananas) do you know? [17]Exactly!

We have many standards even for unprocessed food like bananas. Point 3 is therefore usable for a lot of kinds of fruits and vegetables. The development of such norms shows the unification and with it, the depletion which we see concerning our biodiversity and our nutrition.

Bananas aren’t prefect, in fact they are just as imperfect as human beings.Let bananas be bananas. Whoever wants a perfectly 14 centimetres long yellow curve should tinker one with modelling clay. I promise it won’t become brown.

To put it in a nutshell: The banana is a very special fruit and it has a long way to go until it reaches Europe. There are many reasons why so much bananas are wasted. Anyhow many questions stay open for me:

What can we as consumers do against the waste of bananas? How do you treat bananas the right way when you store them at home? What’s teh difference between conventional bananas and fair-trade bananas? And should I still eat bananas? More about this in my next article: Bananas part 2 – Release next week!

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.lebensmittel-die-kann-man-noch-essen.952c5b83-f516-429f-ab63-d90465e7adac.html

[2] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bananen

[3] http://www.oeko-fair.de/clever-konsumieren/essen-trinken/bananen/bananen-als-nahrungsmittel

[4] http://www.tis-gdv.de/tis/tagungen/svt/svt10/frans/inhalt.htm#1 Bild Quelle FAO

[5] http://www.oeko-fair.de/clever-konsumieren/essen-trinken/bananen/anbau-und-verarbeitung/anbau-und-verarbeitung3

[6] http://schrotundkorn.de/lebenumwelt/lesen/200410b6.html

[7] http://www.oeko-fair.de/clever-konsumieren/essen-trinken/bananen/anbau-und-verarbeitung/anbau-und-verarbeitung3

[8] http://www.oeko-fair.de/clever-konsumieren/essen-trinken/bananen/anbau-und-verarbeitung/anbau-und-verarbeitung3

[9] http://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.lebensmittel-die-kann-man-noch-essen.952c5b83-f516-429f-ab63-d90465e7adac.html

[10] http://www.fao.org/docrep/019/i3627e/i3627e.pdf

[11] http://www.sueddeutsche.de/leben/der-deutschen-liebstes-obst-die-bananenrepublik-1.1026184

[12] http://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.lebensmittel-die-kann-man-noch-essen.952c5b83-f516-429f-ab63-d90465e7adac.html

[13] http://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.lebensmittel-die-kann-man-noch-essen.952c5b83-f516-429f-ab63-d90465e7adac.html

[14] http://www.focus.de/finanzen/news/tid-31838/regelungswut-der-behoeren-so-irre-ist-die-buerokratie-in-deutschland-2-wie-eine-banane-auszusehen-hat_aid_1014793.html

[15] You can buy bananas which are grown in Europe, e.g. on the Canary Islands, but usually you don’t find them in the supermarket.

[16] http://www.focus.de/finanzen/news/tid-31838/regelungswut-der-behoeren-so-irre-ist-die-buerokratie-in-deutschland-2-wie-eine-banane-auszusehen-hat_aid_1014793.html

[17] There are 70 (or even up to 400) kinds of bananas and 20 000 kinds of apples in Europe (http://www.swissfruit.ch/de/frage/wie-viele-apfelsorten-gibt-es%3F).

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