Carmen Miranda may have made her money with bananas, but Chiquita has made a mint from tropical fruit. The fruit giant employs 21,000 around the world and boasts annual revenues of about $3.5 million. One of its larger operations is in Guapiles, Costa Rica, where a subsidiary, Mundimar S.A. Stomps and squishes about 320 million pounds of fruit annually. Those processed bananas, mangos, pineapples, and papayas are shipped to over 40 countries, where they end up in everything from yogurt to pastries to smoothies.
All those tubs of fruit leave behind plenty of rinds, peels, seeds, and pulp. And as all that organic material decomposes, greenhouse gases such as methane are released. Now Chiquita has given Costa Rica another reason to tout its eco-friendly and high quality of life credentials: all that waste will turn into energy and electricity, while producing byproducts that locals can use as fertilizer.Chiquita has invested in biodigester technology (also called anaerobic digestion) that will tackle the company’s organic waste problem. The technology works well in warmer climates (cold climates are a drag on the process because a heat source is required), so the biodigester is a match for Costa Rica. By trapping the methane, along with water already used in the plant’s operations, the Guapiles plant can harness a source of fuel off the local grid. Meanwhile, all that excess fruit material becomes fertilizer that local farmers can use on their land. The Spanish firm Biosinergia is providing the technology, which incorporates a “gravity utilizing” design that can process the fruit waste and water without consuming electricity.
More food processing companies have become more conscious of their operations’ effects on the environment , so a move like Chiquita should be welcomed. Some observers have even announced that Chiquita has gone “carbon neutral,” which could be true of this Costa Rican operation; but this biodigester project is only serving one subsidiary of this food giant, so true carbon neutrality will be a way off. After all, the people who have most affinity for the banana live in climates where bananas can’t exactly grow (East Asia, North America, Europe) . . . which means bales of fruit have to be hauled around the globe.
But Chiquita has taken other steps over the years: improved composting, saving bruised fruit so farmers can use it for livestock feed, and improved plastic recycling. Banana consumption will not go away anytime soon—actions like those of Chiquita are the best alternative.