‘Food waste should not be more logical than circular processing’

In 2022, destroying bananas with a bulge is even more interesting from an economic point of view than eating them anyway. However, there are solutions. That’s what Annabel Hoogendoorn from banana retailer Sunt says.

Globally, a third of all food is wasted, and the food industry is responsible for thirty percent of the total climate impact. With the current lack of resources, we are all aware that drastic changes are needed to drive positive change. There also seems to be a will from the politicians, but in practice, old-fashioned regulation still all too often counteracts the much-needed change. By the year 2022, for example, it will remain commercially more attractive in European ports to destroy bananas that do not meet the requirements than to process them into new raw materials, even if solutions are found. When will our legislation finally embrace circular thinking?

Even more curvy than a banana

One of the most wasted products in ports is bananas. Twenty million kilos of bananas are destroyed every year after arriving at the Benelux ports alone because the ripening process has started or the skin of this tropical fruit was damaged during transport. As a result, these bananas no longer meet the quality requirements, can not follow the standard route to wholesalers or supermarkets and therefore lose their value.

Food waste should not be more commercially attractive than circular processing

These bananas may no longer look flawless, but they can still be processed and eaten perfectly. However, it does not happen today or only very rarely. This is because an import duty has to be paid for these ‘rejected’ bananas, just as high as for their brothers and sisters who end up in the shops. At the same time, banana puree, mostly from countries such as Ecuador and Costa Rica, is exempt from import costs. Producers who need processed bananas are therefore more likely to choose to import this cheaper puree. The simplest and most commercially attractive ‘solution’ for rejected bananas is therefore to destroy them or have them fermented.

An uneven playing field

At Sunt we find it absurd. In our Banana Factory, we can turn an ‘inedible banana’ into puree, which can be used in banana bread, smoothies and ice cream, among other things. Shouldn’t that be the logical approach?

After all, the twenty million kilos of bananas that are now wasted every year in the Benelux can cover the entire demand for banana puree in the EU. By utilizing this residual power in a good way, the pressure on agricultural land in the countries of origin will be reduced because millions less bananas will have to be grown. Plus, the full benefits of what we have are good for reducing our emissions. This would fall because fewer bananas would have to be transported and because no more would be burned in the ports of the Benelux.

Sustainable also more expensive?

However, the Dutch customs service recently decided that rejected and even rotten bananas should be imported under the same product code as fresh bananas with associated high import duties. This would mean that the price of banana puree made from the millions of bananas that would otherwise be destroyed in the Benelux would be many times higher than banana puree imported from Central America. This creates uneven rules of the game and encourages waste of valuable raw materials.

Changing the system requires some creativity, but above all the willingness to take sustainable steps

Due to the European labor costs and high import tariffs for fresh bananas, the processing of these rejected bananas is only profitable if import duties are not levied, as is now the case with banana puree. It may not be that sustainable is the more expensive option.

After almost a year of discussions with the European Commission, the Dutch customs and various ministries, we are unfortunately no longer at the forefront of solving this problem. The Dutch customs officers, the party responsible for classifying goods in commodity codes in our country, could nevertheless feel supported from all sides to trade: no one likes to see food being wasted today.

The Belgian customs show that this is possible. She acknowledges the gray area and refers to customs legislation that inedible bananas must absolutely not be imported as ‘fresh banana’. Changing the system requires some creativity, but above all the willingness to take sustainable steps. If this does not happen, all circular promises and sustainable goals will remain nothing more than an illusion.

Healthy Banana Factories

SUN | The Banana Factory is 100% committed to challenging and positively changing the current food industry with the most wasted and most iconic fruit; bananas. We start with the fruit, but eventually we even bring the peel back into the food chain. That way, we close the chain completely.

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