10 Fruits With the Highest Carbon Footprint: The Full Life-Cycle Analysis

10 Fruits With the Highest Carbon Footprint: The Full Life-Cycle Analysis

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:16 Minutes

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Fruit is one of the healthiest food groups, providing important nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, protein, and fiber. They are delicious too, useful as a quick snack and a popular ingredient in baked goods. But, the growing, picking, transporting, and packaging processes of fruit can create significant carbon emissions. Some are higher emitters than others, using more than their share of carbon to make it from farm to table. So, we had to ask: What are the fruits with the highest carbon footprints?

The fruits with the highest carbon footprints are avocados, cantaloupes, kiwis, blueberries, plums, strawberries, figs, papayas, oranges, and dates. These fruits all have carbon footprints of over 0.27 kg (0.6lb) of CO2e per pound, which is the average carbon footprint for a fruit. 

In this article, we will discuss these top ten highest carbon-emitting fruits, from avocados to dates, providing a brief overview of the factors contributing to their high carbon footprint. After that, we will provide some advice on how to lower your fruit carbon footprint in general, without necessarily cutting down on these specific fruits.

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of All Fruits

The carbon footprint is one of the ways we measure the effects of our human-induced global climate change. It primarily focuses on the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with consumption, but also includes other emissions such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons, and is generally expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e).

“Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period”

Merriam Webster

Basically, it is the amount of carbon emitted by you as an individual or an organization providing you with goods and services – including fruits:

To understand the carbon footprint of fruits, we must assess their life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials.

These Are the 10 Fruits With the Highest Carbon Footprint

Type of fruitCarbon footprint
AvocadosOverall carbon footprint: 0.85 kg (1.9 lb) of Co2e per pound of avocados
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Transportation in refrigerated trucks
CantaloupeOverall carbon footprint: 0.58kg (1.3lb) of CO2e per pound of cantaloupe
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Low land density and high irrigation needs
KiwisOverall carbon footprint: 0.56kg (1.24lb) of CO2e per pound of kiwis
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Transportation from New Zealand in refrigerated containers
BlueberriesOverall carbon footprint: 0.45kg (1lb) of CO2e per pound of blueberries
Main driver of its carbon footprint: High pesticide use and low land density
PlumsOverall carbon footprint: 0.4 kg (0.88 lbs) CO2e per pound of plums
Main driver of its carbon footprint: High irrigation and pesticide use
StrawberriesOverall carbon footprint: 0.39kg (0.88lb) of CO2e per pound of strawberries
Main driver of its carbon footprint: High irrigation requirements
FigsOverall carbon footprint: 0.3kg (0.68lb) of CO2e per pound of figs
Main driver of its carbon footprint: High High irrigation requirements and mechanized harvesting processes
PapayasOverall carbon footprint: 0.3kg (0.67lb) of CO2e per pound of papayas
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Use of styrofoam packaging
OrangesOverall carbon footprint: 0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound of oranges
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Transportation from Brazil
DatesOverall carbon footprint: 0.27kg (0.6lb) of CO2e per pound of dates
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Mechanical harvesting techniques and use of plastic packaging
1

Avocado: The Fruit with the Highest Overall Carbon Footprint

Avocados have a high carbon footprint of around 0.85kg (1.9lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados. The main reason for this is transportation emissions, since most avocados consumed in the United States are imported from Mexico. Deforestation, waste management, and water consumption are also major factors.

Here are the life-cycle stages of avocado and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

  • Growing of avocados: Growing avocados has a relatively high carbon footprint. The biggest contributors from a growing perspective are water usage and the land clearing required to build new farms.
  • Harvesting, processing, and packaging of avocados: Harvesting, processing, and packaging have the lowest impact on the list for avocado carbon emissions because avocados are hand-picked and a lot of the more recent packaging used is recyclable. However, a complete move away from plastic bags and styrofoam trays would reduce the carbon impact even further. 
  • Transporting of avocados: Transportation is one of the worst offenders in terms of the overall carbon footprint of avocados, depending on where your avocados come from. They are usually transported in refrigerated trucks which release CO2 emissions. The more local the source of your avocados the lower the carbon footprint will be.
  • End-of-life of avocados: The end-of-life carbon footprint of avocados can be significant. However, the relative impact completely depends on how waste is disposed of. Most avocado waste, including skins, and pits, technically can be composted, but in practice typically goes into landfills, increasing the carbon footprint of this stage.

The overall carbon footprint of avocados is around 0.85 kg (1.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados. This high number can mostly be attributed to the long transportation process of avocados and because avocado waste still ends up in landfill despite the fact that most of it can be composted. 

2

Cantaloupe: The Fruit with Intense Growing Needs

The carbon footprint of cantaloupe is high at 0.58kg (1.3lb) of CO2e per pound of cantaloupe. This is mainly because of their low land density, high irrigation, refrigeration during transportation, and low composting rates. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of cantaloupe and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

The overall carbon footprint of cantaloupes is 0.58kg (1.3lb) of CO2e per pound of cantaloupe. The main factors that contribute to this are their high resource needs during growth (land, irrigation), long transportation distances in the winter, and refrigerated transportation.

3

Kiwis: The Importation of This Fruit Increases its Carbon Emissions

The carbon footprint of kiwis is high at 0.56kg (1.24lb) of CO2e per pound of kiwis. This is mainly because they are transported from New Zealand in refrigerated trucks, have long growth durations, use mechanized processing, and suffer from low composting rates. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of kiwis and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

The overall carbon footprint of kiwis is high at 0.56kg (1.24lb) of CO2e per pound of kiwis. The main factors that contribute to this are long growth times, long transportation distances, mechanized processing, refrigeration requirements, and low composting rates. 

4

Blueberries: The Fruit That Requires High Pesticide Use

Blueberries have a high carbon footprint of 0.45kg (1lb) of CO2e per pound of blueberries. This is mainly because of their high pesticide use, mechanized farming methods, refrigerated transportation, and use of plastic packaging. Their footprint is significant compared to other fruits. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of blueberries and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

The overall carbon footprint of blueberries is 0.45kg (1lb) of CO2e per pound of blueberries. The main factors that contribute to this are the mechanized methods used during the farming process, high pesticide use, and the use of plastic packaging. 

5

Plums: The Mechanically-Processed Fruit

Plums have a carbon footprint of 0.4 kg (0.88 lbs) CO2e per pound of plums. The main factors contributing to this are their high rates of land use, irrigation, and pesticides. They also have intense harvesting methods and long transportation times. Plums are among the highest carbon-emitting fruits on the carbon footprint scale. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of plums and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

The overall carbon footprint of plums is 0.4 kg (0.88 lbs) CO2e per pound of plums. There are many factors that contribute to this large carbon footprint, including the amount of irrigation, land, and pesticides used, as well as the mechanized harvesting practices and the improper disposal of waste. In general, plums have a high carbon footprint, especially in comparison to other fruits. 

6

Strawberries: The Fruit That Uses Significant Plastic Packaging

Strawberries have a fairly high carbon footprint of 0.39kg (0.88lb) of CO2e per pound of strawberries. This is mainly due to their irrigation requirements, high pesticide use, plastic packaging, and refrigeration during transportation from Mexico. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of strawberries and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

The overall carbon footprint of strawberries is fairly high at 0.39kg (0.88lb) of CO2e per pound of strawberries. The main factors that contribute to this are their growth methods, with high irrigation and pesticide use, the need for refrigerated trucks during transport, and their use of plastic packaging. 

7

Figs: The Fruit With High Irrigation Needs

Figs have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.3kg (0.68lb) of CO2e per pound of figs. This is mainly because of their high irrigation requirements, mechanized harvesting processes, refrigerated trucking, and plastic packaging. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of figs and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

The overall carbon footprint of figs is 0.3kg (0.68lb) of CO2e per pound of figs. The main factors that contribute to this are their mechanized harvesting, high irrigation requirements, low land yield, refrigerated trucking, low composting rates, and the use of plastic packaging. 

8

Papayas: The Fruit That Uses Styrofoam Packaging

Papayas have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.3kg (0.67lb) of CO2e per pound of papayas. This is mainly because of their refrigerated shipping from Mexico, use of styrofoam packaging, high irrigation requirements, and low composting rates. 

Here are the life-cycle stages of papayas and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

The overall carbon footprint of papayas is moderate at 0.3kg (0.67lb) of CO2e per pound of papayas. The main factors that contribute to this are the use of styrofoam packaging, international refrigerated shipping, and their high irrigation needs. 

9

Oranges: The Fruit That Requires Hormone-Disrupting Fungicides During Growth

Oranges have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound of oranges. The main contributors to their carbon footprint are transportation, high pesticide use, and waste production. In general, oranges are fairly sustainable compared to many other fruits.

Here are the life-cycle stages of oranges and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

The overall carbon footprint of oranges is around 0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound for oranges produced and consumed in the US. The main contributor to the carbon footprint of oranges is the mode and distance of transportation as well as waste disposal. The overall carbon footprint is slightly above average in comparison with other fruits. 

10

Dates: The Time-Consuming Fruit

Dates have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.27kg (0.6lb) of CO2e per pound of dates. This is mainly because they use plastic packaging, have high irrigation requirements, and use mechanized harvesting techniques.

Here are the life-cycle stages of dates and each stage’s sustainability assessment:

The overall carbon footprint of dates is fairly high at 0.27kg (0.6lb) of CO2e per pound of dates. The main factors that contribute to this are mechanization during the harvesting process, irrigation requirements, plastic packaging, the distance they travel from Tunisia (in the case of dried dates), and low composting rates.

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

There are many things you can do to cut down on how your fruit consumption impacts the planet. By carefully considering your consumption habits to reduce carbon emissions and offsetting your carbon through carbon-extraction schemes, you can consume fruit without having a large negative impact on the earth. 

Some of the carbon risks of the fruits highlighted in this article may be somewhat concerning. However, the good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to lower your carbon emissions while still eating these fruits. Purchasing organic or locally-grown fruits and disposing of the waste efficiently can help with this. Furthermore, you can consider emission offsets, which work to extract carbon from the atmosphere. Here, we will walk you through how to accomplish both of these things.

How Can You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Shopping for Fruits

Before you start worrying about your offsets, you might be wondering how you can stop producing carbon in the first place through your fruit consumption. One of the best ways to do this is to look at the parts of the fruit process that have the highest carbon footprint and start there. In this section, we give you a short list of ways you can reduce your fruit carbon footprint, so you can continue consuming fruit without the high carbon price tag.

  1. Buy local fruit: Many fruits are transported from far distances, such as kiwis, which typically come from New Zealand. Pair this with the fact that most fruits need to be refrigerated when they are shipped, and you end up creating a lot of emissions from transportation alone. Buying your fruits as locally as possible means that they will create less transportation emissions. 
  2. Buy in-season fruit: Seasonality has a huge influence on the carbon footprint of your fruits. Out of season fruits are typically imported or have been stored for significant periods of time, which also uses energy. Limiting your fruit consumption to their season can help raise the likelihood that you are eating fresh and local produce. Keeping a fruit calendar for seasons in your region can help you to keep on top of this. 
  3. Avoid pesticides: Pesticides have a very high carbon footprint and so buying organic or low-pesticide fruits will help lower your carbon footprint. Pesticides can also be damaging to your health, so it’s a win-win!
  4. Avoid packaging: All packaging has to be created and disposed of, which creates carbon emissions no matter how environmentally-friendly they might seem. No packaging is always best. Materials like plastic and styrofoam are especially high-emitters, so those should be avoided where possible. 
  5. Avoid food waste: When food is thrown out, it is often not composted and ends up in landfills. Food in landfills creates significant carbon emissions through methane. As a result, even the most carbon-neutral fruit can create emissions if it is not disposed of properly. Minimizing waste and composting the waste you do create will help cut down on the end-of-life emissions of your fruit. 

Following some of these methods can really help you to cut down on your fruit carbon emissions. None of these will bring your emissions down to zero, since there are always hidden carbon costs that may be outside of your control. Reduction is always better than nothing, but if you do want to get your fruit emissions down to absolute zero, then you can look into carbon offsets.

How Can You Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

Carbon offsets are reductions in carbon emissions that are used to compensate for carbon emissions occurring elsewhere – for example for the carbon emissions that are associated with fruits. They are measured in tons of CO2 equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms on what is known as the global carbon offset market. 

“Carbon Offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by planting trees”

Oxford Dictionary

In terms of fruits – and indeed all food types – there will always be a carbon footprint, because of the resources it takes to get your food from farms to the place where you’ll eventually eat them. And while there are ways to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping for fruits, carbon offsets would be a way to reduce your CO2e emissions all the way down to net zero (or even to become climate positive).

However, when you purchase carbon offsets, it’s important that they actually make a difference in offsetting (aka reducing) total carbon emissions. To achieve that, the following are key criteria:

  • Carbon offset projects have to be effective (different projects have different effectiveness rates)
  • Carbon offset projects have to be additional
  • Carbon offset projects have to be permanent
  • The claims from carbon offset projects have to be verifiable

To find the best carbon offsets for you personally, check out our full guide on the best carbon offsets for individuals, where you’ll also learn more about how these carbon offset projects work, what their respective offsetting costs are, and what your best way would be to offset your own carbon emissions.

Related: Check out our full guide on “What Are the Best Carbon Offsets for Individuals: Complete 2023 List” to find the best carbon offset providers for your personal carbon emissions and those associated to, e.g., eating fruits.

Final Thoughts

Though fruits in general have a lower carbon footprint than many other foods, these ones still have significant carbon footprints. Factors like transportation, packaging, land usage, and waste management can have a major effect on their carbon footprint. Taking measures like composting food waste and buying local produce can help bring down the carbon footprints of these relatively high-emitting fruits so that you can consume fruit without the high carbon price!

Stay impactful,

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