Costa Rica: Rio Frio’s Plastic Management for Sustainable Production

While striving for a truly sustainable and eco-friendly banana production process, Rio Frio farm began to reduce, reuse and recycle all of its plastic material.

Since its establishment in 1969, Rio Frio, a Dole banana farm in Costa Rica, has focused on innovation and creating a truly sustainable banana production process. In doing so, the farm strives to reduce water usage, attain carbon neutrality and manage waste in an integrated system based on the concept, “reduce, reuse and recycle.”  Because plastic is often overused in the banana production process, Rio Frio proposed and implemented a plastic management program – a perfect exemplification of Dole Food Company, Inc.’s environmental policy in action.

Plastic is used in banana production for three major purposes:

  1. As a field bag to protect banana stems from insects and mechanical damage, as well as enhance fruit development.
  2. As a twine that props the banana plants to prevent them from tipping over.
  3. As a sheath to avoid quality problems, particularly scarring, during finger growth.

As a way to limit waste and utilize materials most effectively, Dole’s Rio Frio reuses and recycles field bags – the greatest source of plastic use in the banana production process. Additionally, twine is collected and immediately sent for recycling, while sheaths can be reused a few times first before getting recycled into new plastic items.

Rio Frio’s plastic management program has left a positive impact on the community that continues to enhance the lives of local families. For example, the program has leveraged the use of vacant buildings for washing and drying plastic material, which, in turn, has installed a culture of “reuse” among the people, decreased the cost of bagging material and has created job opportunities for the spouses of farm employees. Most importantly, there has been an overall reduction in the environmental footprint of banana production. An idea that started with one harvesting group back in 2008 has expanded to the rest of Rio Frio farm and recently to all the other banana plantations operated by Dole in Costa Rica.

A more extensive list of benefits from the plastic management innovation project includes:

Social

  • Support for creation of small businesses (the farm workers are the owners of the operation that sells the washed plastic materials back to the farm).
  • A source of new employment opportunities.
  • Improvement of the sustainability image of banana production.
  • A source of motivation for all farm personnel.

Environmental

  • A decrease in the use of new plastic materials, manufactured by virgin resins produced from fossil fuel derivatives.
  • 53% average reduction in the generation of plastic waste.
  • Encouragement to use pallet corner boards that come from recycled plastic.
  • In 2010, over 2 million stems were bagged in Rio Frio farm. This required the equivalent of 77 metric tons of plastic. Nearly 41 tons were from reused plastic materials!

Economics

  • Additional income generation for family members employed by the banana industry.
  • Ability for the farm to purchase reused plastic from small businesses at a reduced cost compared to the cost of new, one‐use plastic products.