Your Banana Grew Up in a Plastic Bag

Saying no thanks to a plastic shopping bag when you buy that bunch of bananas is good for the environment. It may surprise you to know that many intensively grown bananas are covered with a polyethylene bag when they are maturing on the banana plant. Here is what it says on a commodities website:

Banana bunches are covered with polyethylene bags in order to protect them from wind and attacks of insects or birds, as well as to maintain optimum temperatures, creating a micro-climate.

I know first hand that agriculture can be very plastic intensive. I grew up in a rural farming area during a time when many of the cattle farmers were adopting new practices. Farmers that used to harvest one or two crops of hay from a grass field started cutting the grass earlier in the spring and making silage. Silage is kind of like sauerkraut for cows. The farmer stores the still wet grass in a tightly packed anaerobic environment where beneficial microbes cause some fermentation. The idea is to make the pile inhospitable to the microbes that would cause spoiling. Many of the methods used to make silage require huge sheets of plastic. Some farmers have access to a recycling program for this material, but many do not. I once walked down the length of a tributary of the Musquodoboit River looking for two missing geese (long story) and I picked up several large pieces of plastic that had been blown into the water from nearby farms.

Another plastic intensive practice that started when I was a kid involved housing baby Holsteins in individual plastic igloo-type enclosures. Dairy calves are not typically housed with their mothers since they aren’t allowed to nurse for long (if at all). Keeping the calves separated from older animals (and each other) reduces the incidence of contagious disease and the fresh air reduces the incidence of respiratory problems. Air quality is not always that great inside a barn filled with cows. In Eastern Canada where I grew up, severe weather or careless storage and handling would sometimes render these cheap housing units unusable. They would be thrown away. ‘Away’ is very big in Canada.

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‘Away’ is pretty big where I live now as well. I noticed that some date farmers protect their crop with plastic bags. There are date groves as the edge of the Sahara Desert. I imagine that a lot of this plastic gets blown off the date palms and out into the desert. I took a three hour trek out into the desert and I have to say that it looks pretty unlittered once you get out of sight of civilization.

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It really doesn’t matter how big ‘away’ is when you realize that plastic lasts ‘forever’. We are already finding that out in the Pacific Ocean where the plastic is gathering into a giant swirling garbage patch. The trees of Canada and the sand of the Sahara can only hide so much plastic.

Update: Just to clarify, I am much too wimpy to live in a place like Douz. I went south on an adventure, but I live in the most northerly and city in Tunisia where the environment is green (in color) much of the time.

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5 Responses to Your Banana Grew Up in a Plastic Bag

  1. I knew plastic sheeting was sometimes used to protect tomatoes, but had no idea that bananas received such protection. This information is disturbing and provides me with yet another motivation to buy from a local farmer who is anti-plastic. However, bananas don’t grow in my area, and they’re a favorite with my family. Do you know whether organic bananas are grown in plastic bags?

  2. First, this explains a lot because you know how oftentimes at the top of the banana bunch there’s a little piece of plastic stuck there? Right, well, guess this is the explanation, then…

    Also, I once visited relatives in Sicily who have a large garden in their backyard, with fruit trees– they tied a paper bag around each lemon fruit, to deter pests. This was a great choice– first of all, PAPER bags. Second of all, no pesticides. Also, eating freshly made sicilian lemon granita for breakfast every day was a big slice of heaven.

  3. Martin says:

    We have a lemon tree in front of the house and the landlord told us to help ourselves to them this spring. I haven’t blogged about making homemade mayonnaise since Beth Terry at Fake Plastic Fish had it covered, but fresh lemon was one of the key ingredients. It’s nice that there were local lettuce and tomatoes in season at the same time.

  4. Donald says:

    Same question as Cousin Yellowstone: Do you know whether organic bananas are grown in plastic bags?

  5. Martin says:

    I was the company liaison for a guy who did the yearly audit of a certified organic coffee roastery. That kind of question never came up. Organic certification is a good fit with underdeveloped places where industrial agriculture practices haven’t yet caught on. It’s possible that SOME organic bananas weren’t grown inside a plastic bag, but I doubt that there is any documentation.