A pilot program being conducted by Chiquita Brands International has reduced water use in banana packing stations by 8 million gallons a year.

Cincinnati-based Chiquita started its water recycling and purification system in 14 packing stations in Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala in 2008. Spokesman Ed Loyd said the company has reduced water used for packing bananas by 60% to 90% in those locations.

Chiquita project protects water resources

Courtesy Chiquita

A Chiquita banana facility in Costa Rica features a water purification and recycling system. The company has reduced water used for packing bananas by 60% to 90% in the locations using the system, says Ed Loyd, Chiquita spokesman. 

“There is an investment in the water recycling installations, but that is amply justified by the benefits of long-term protection of water sources,” Loyd said. “This is an investment designed to ensure good water conservation, but which also prudently protects a resource which is essential for local communities and Chiquita’s own farming operations. Even in the high rainfall areas of Central America, where Chiquita’s farms are located, the protection of aquifers is important.”

Water plays a big role in the packaging of bananas — washing the fruit, removing the natural latex that flows from the cuts made to create clusters, and flotation during selection and packing.

Loyd said that if latex stains bananas the fruit can’t be sold. The gummy, white substance is typically removed from water tanks by continually replenishing the water and by replacing the water in the tanks daily.

He said used water is filtered before returning to the environment, but no effective system had been found to remove the latex until recently.

Loyd said the new system, which uses processes of flocculation, precipitation, filtration and sedimentation, are capable of recycling and purifying water used in the packing stations for one to three weeks.

“While the investments required are substantial,” he said, “this technology offers important advantages.”

Those advantages include protecting and maintaining ground water resources, returning water to the environment clean and free of latex and improving banana quality in regions where well water with a high mineral content stains bananas during the washing process.

Chiquita has a total of 60 packing stations on the farms it owns, and more of those stations are being converted to include the water recycling system, Loyd said.

“Work is proceeding to optimize the system’s design and performance in a variety of conditions, to determine the future rate of conversions,” he said.

Water recycling, protecting groundwater resources and avoiding contamination of water recourses all are important principles of sustainability found in the standards of the Rainforest Alliance, Loyd said.

All of Chiquita’s company-owned farms in Latin America have been certified by that New York-based nonprofit since 2000.

According to a case study about Chiquita on its website, the Rainforest Alliance said Chiquita has invested more than $20 million to improve facilities and infrastructures since starting the certification process in 1992.

Those improvements include reforesting about 2,500 acres by planting 1 million trees and bushes; setting aside more than 2,000 additional acres for forest regeneration; recycling or reusing nearly 80% of the plastic bags and twine used on company farms, or roughly 3,000 metric tons per year; and upgrading working conditions.