Banana Republic

When does waste become waste?

November 2019
I started this project looking into things that I consider waste in my household. Things that end up in the bin. When I started composting all food waste in my home and realised there was not so much put in the bin when the plastics, paper, metals and food waste had been separated.

Food waste is an enormous problem in the world, especially in the richer countries. My locality, the household is the largest part of the food waste problem. In 2016 an average person in Sweden generated 97 kg of food waste from their household, 35% of which were unnecessary – food that could have been eaten.

If we were to eat the food we throw away (known as “unnecessary” food waste or “food wastage”), we wouldn’t need to produce as much. This would in turn reduce the environmental impact from the food supply chain. From an environmental point of view, less food waste would reduce energy use, raw material consumption and emissions from the production, transport and handling of food. In a wider perspective, the food produced could feed more people without increasing the environmental impact. (Food Waste Volumes in Sweden)

According to Naturvårdsverket an example of unavoidable food waste would be peels, coffee grounds and bones.


I made a short survey on the halls of Konstfack to understand better why and what people consider as waste. I gathered random items I found in waste bins and simply asked “Is this waste?” (see photo) and “When does something become waste?”. The answers were very different and varied from someone considering everything as waste to another that wrote “NOTHING IS WASTE #ZEROWASTE” – and everything in between. In all cases, except the banana peel, less than half of the respondent thought of the items as waste. 58% considered the banana peel as waste. In the response to the question “When does waste become waste?” one respondent wrote “When you can’t think of anything to do with it but [to] put it in the trash”.

Michael Mobbs wrote in his book Sustainable Food:

“There is no such thing as ‘waste’, just a failure of imagination. An indicator of a sustainable suburb will be one where garbage trucks are no longer needed.”

Perhaps it is not feasible to suggest that an urban area would do better without garbage trucks. Systems are often well developed and work more efficiently in a larger scale and one can not assume that everyone has the knowledge, capability or competence to take care of their own waste. It is non the less healthy to take into consideration that what we consider as waste does not simply disappear as soon its out of our eyesight. I believe the knowledge of what happens to our waste and how systems work need to be transparent and obvious to the consumer. The consumer has to be informed in order to take action and hopefully with the right knowledge he will think differently, consume differently and waste less.


I decided to focus on the banana peel as the source of my food waste research. Possibly I was inspired by the survey I did and the book How Bad Are Bananas?, but it was also important to focus on one thing to simplify calculations and understanding of the process.
On an average a Western European eats about 1 banana a week which would be around 4680 bananas in a lifetime. A banana is a great fruit, full of nutrition and produces relatively small carbon footprint, even though it is mainly grown in Asia, Southern America and Africa and has to be shipped long distances to Europeans. Bananas are covered with a thick peel and therefore do not need much of additional packaging. The fruit inside the peel weights about 62% of the banana which means that the banana peel of a 200 gram banana weights about 76 grams. The peel is edible and non toxic but is rarely eaten.

Banana Republic shows a closed system where Bob has to maintain a routine of banana eating in order to keep his system working. The banana peel is added to the system which provides light and nutrition to a plant that grows edible berries.
The afterlife of Banana Republic would be a larger scale, functioning version where people might think of their food waste as a coin or a token. They could insert their food waste to turn on a machine almost instantly.