Dole recently announced plans to eliminate food waste by 2025 and move to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. The multinational food company revealed their new sustainability efforts in a 2020 report on “The Dole Way,” which emphasizes their commitment to farmers, consumers and the environment. A major part of their new initiatives involves a focus on waste reduction and recycling.
Waste Management and Industry Strategies
When it comes to food waste, specifically produce, the numbers are staggering. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), food waste accounts for 30%-40% of the United States food supply. Food waste is the largest category of material in municipal landfills, playing a huge role in releasing the greenhouse gas methane. Municipalities across the U.S. are looking for new ways to handle food waste, incorporating innovative technology into their waste management systems. For example, composting food waste is now a more viable option in many areas, though the infrastructure for this system is still relatively new.
In 2019, three government departments came together to brand a new initiative to tackle food waste. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created an interagency strategy to tackle food waste, focusing on industry initiatives and consumer education.
Dole Food Co. is one of the largest producers and distributors of fruit in the world, and their commitment to reducing food waste signals a disruption within the industry. While consumers play an essential role in reducing food waste, the most significant change comes from industry leaders.
Dole Waste Reduction Efforts
Dole’s primary strategy in reducing food waste involves less waste between the farm and the grocery store. Most unsold fruits and vegetables are discarded for purely cosmetic reasons, as consumers are accustomed to perfect-looking produce. This practice results in significant levels of waste in the supply chain, as undamaged food that is not aesthetically perfect is thrown out before it reaches grocery store shelves. Dole hopes to eliminate this issue by improving their waste strategies over the years, using new machinery that is less damaging during packaging and setting up composting operations for excess produce.
The Role of Innovative Technology
To combat current levels of food waste, new technology is needed. Dole recognizes the importance of innovative technology in all parts of the supply chain. From reducing plastic use during cultivation to reusing pineapple skins for packaging, the corporation looks for a new path forward to reach its sustainability goals.
Innovation, along with ag-tech, is transforming how agricultural enterprises are run and how food reaches the consumer. Most food waste issues arise from an inefficient distribution network. For example, Dole is one of the main distributors of pineapples and bananas. Most of the time, these products must be shipped before they ripen, so they can reach grocery stores across oceans and survive on distribution trucks for weeks. For this system to work, these fruits must be wrapped in packaging that delays ripening. If they ripen too quickly, they are thrown out.
Historically, Dole used conventional plastic wrapping to contain produce traveling long distances. However, this is changing. According to their 2020 report, Dole is testing sustainable alternatives to agricultural plastic and working toward using only post-consumer recycled plastic in the meantime. We often think of food waste as occurring after we bring veggies home and forget about them in the fridge, but most of it happens before produce even reaches the grocery store.
A Carbon-Free Future
Dole’s new sustainability efforts send a powerful message to competitors in the agribusiness industry. Now is the time to eliminate food waste and create a more equitable food system. Environmental initiatives are necessary at the consumer level and all other parts of the supply chain. New technology and economic initiatives make eliminating waste and moving toward carbon-free operations wholly possible, even for an agribusiness as large as Dole.