An A-peel to the Litterbug
Why banana peels and fruit waste are actually litter

What happens when you throw banana peels out the car window or onto the sidewalk? Is this still littering and can they decompose?

Have you ever been out for walk when suddenly you stumble on a discarded banana peel? I know what you are thinking: This is not a hilarious scene from the cartoons. Instead of slipping and sliding, you step over the peel, perhaps not even noticing because, “Hey, banana peels are natural, and they will just decompose right?”

In fact, banana peels, like other fruit-waste-turned-litter, can take years to fully decompose, especially when discarded on a city sidewalk. Banana peels, in particular, can take up to two years to fully decompose! Meanwhile, this litter can become unsuitable snacks for wildlife and an un-a-peeling eyesore, encouraging other types of litter that might take even longer to decompose.

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The Science of Decomposition
Decomposition is the process by which organic substances are broken down into simpler organic matter. In soil, organic matter plays a critical role in building resiliency to pH change and buffering capacity, improving infiltration and water-holding capacity, and enhances soil microbial biodiversity, which can help in the suppression of diseases and pests. The process of transforming wastes, like banana peels, into this highly useful substance is gradual and complex. Compost is a common method for disposing of household food wastes and transforming it into a critical soil enhancer.

But compost itself is not as simple as throwing a piece of organic waste on the ground or in a careless pile. Additional factors, like the balance of carbon and nitrogen in your pile, are important to consider. Without the proper mixture, decomposition still occurs, but at a much slower and less effective rate. In the meantime, this slowed-down version of “composting” leaves room for less desirable outcomes to take effect. The intention might be to enrich soil or contribute to natural processes, but the result is actually litter.

Why Are Fruit Wastes Litter?
Litter is often thought of as trash and scraps left lying in open or public spaces. Litter has a lot of negative impacts, including decreasing property value, attracting dumping and other crimes and creating an eyesore. Littering also has a direct negative impact on the environment.

One example of how food wastes, including fruit, can have a negative impact on the environment is how it affects wildlife. Certain fruits, like bananas, are not native ingredients in Pennsylvania’s wildlife diets. Ingesting these foods can harm the animal’s digestive systems and lead to other negative animal health outcomes. Issues also arise through creating habituation for animals.

Habituation means that animals learn and adapt to habits of where food is located and how it is provided. By feasting on food wastes, certain natural animal instincts can decline. Food wastes are often discarded in areas where humans spend time on foot or even in cars. As animals learn where food can be found, they lose their sense of fear and danger when approaching humans and cars, which can lead to animal death.

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Given the negative consequences of throwing these fruit wastes on the ground, what are better environmentally-friendly ways of disposing these organic materials?

Environmental Fruit Waste Disposal
There are a few great options for disposing of fruit waste if you can hold on to that banana peel until you get where you are going!

  • Compost – Composting is a very common method for disposing of fruit and other food wastes. It involves creating a designated space in your yard, garden or back porch where you can provide all of the necessary ingredients to transform your trash into a soil treasure. Make sure you are including both “green” fresh ingredients, like food scraps and lawn clippings, and “brown” materials, such as dried leaves, dried grass and paper bags. Keep the compost pile from drying out and regularly turn the pile to ensure that oxygen can enter the pile and fuel the microbes in the decomposition process.

  • Burry them in the garden – Some home gardeners swear by the incorporation of banana peels directly in their garden to give their plants a boost of potassium. Potassium is an essential plant element that is linked to fruiting. While this is a commonly used strategy ensuring the potassium from banana peels is accessible to the plants at the right time is not an easy task. Similar to discarding peels on the sidewalk, it can take some time for them to breakdown in the soil. However, this does remove them from the soil surface and keeps them away from hungry creatures or pests!

  • Eat them – Eating banana peels? Yes! Though not a piece of the fruit we typically think of eating, banana peels are edible! They are high in nutrients and can be prepared in a variety of ways. A quick online search will provide countless recipes for banana peel “pulled pork” that can be used in tacos. Other options include making candied banana peels for yogurt and ice cream, throwing the peel in a smoothie and more.
So, think twice before discarding that banana peel on the sidewalk and look into some of these alternatives!