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

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

By
Teresa Mersereau

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Fruit is one of the healthiest food groups, providing important nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, protein, and fiber. But, the growing, picking, transporting, and packaging processes of fruit can create significant carbon emissions. Some are higher emitters than others, but it can be difficult to determine which ones are the most environmentally friendly. So, we had to ask: What are the fruits with the lowest carbon footprints?

Fruits with the lowest carbon footprint are watermelon, clementines, blackberries, grapefruit, lemons, pineapples, raspberries, apricots, peaches, and limes. These fruits have carbon footprints of 0.18kg (0.6lb) of CO2e per pound or lower, which is well below the average carbon footprint for fruit. 

In this article, we will discuss these 10 lowest carbon-emitting fruits, from watermelons to limes, providing a brief overview of the factors contributing to their carbon footprint. After that, we will provide some advice on how to lower your fruit carbon footprint in general, in addition to focusing on these lower-emitting 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 Lowest Carbon Footprint

Type of fruitCarbon footprint
WatermelonsOverall carbon footprint: 0.05kg (0.11 lb) of CO2e per pound of watermelon
Main driver of its carbon footprint: High pesticide usage
ClementinesOverall carbon footprint: 0.06 kg (0.13 lbs) CO2e per pound of clementines
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Long transportation distances.
BlackberriesOverall carbon footprint: 0.07kg (0.15) of CO2e per pound of blackberries
Main driver of its carbon footprint: High irrigation requirements
GrapefruitsOverall carbon footprint: 0.08kg (0.18lb) of CO2e per pound of grapefruit
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Energy from mechanical harvesting
LemonsOverall carbon footprint: 0.09kg (0.19lbs) CO2e per pound of lemons
Main driver of its carbon footprint: High pesticide usage
PineapplesOverall carbon footprint: 0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapple
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Long transportation requirements in refrigerated containers.
RaspberriesOverall carbon footprint: 0.15kg (0.33lb) of CO2e per pound of raspberries
Main driver of its carbon footprint: High levels of organic waste.
ApricotsOverall carbon footprint: 0.16kg (0.36lb) of CO2e per pound of apricots
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Use of styrofoam packaging.
PeachesOverall carbon footprint: 0.17kg (0.38lbs) CO2e per pound of peaches
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Long-distance transportation
LimesOverall carbon footprint: 0.18kg (0.39lb) of CO2e per pound of limes
Main driver of its carbon footprint: Intense refrigeration requirements during processing and transportation.
1

Watermelons: The Fruit With the Lowest Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint of watermelons is 0.05kg (0.11 lb) of CO2e per pound of watermelons, which is very low. Watermelons are produced domestically in the US and have minimal harvesting, processing, and packaging footprints; despite their high pesticide usage and low composting rates.

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

Watermelons have a carbon footprint of 0.05kg (0.11 lb) of CO2e per pound of watermelon. This is very low compared to other fruits and therefore is very carbon-conscious. The main factors that affect their carbon footprint are high pesticide use, low composting rates, low-density agriculture, and refrigeration during transportation.

2

Clementines: The Fruit With Short Growth Times

The carbon footprint of clementines is 0.06 kg (0.13 lbs) CO2e per pound of clementines. The main contributors to this carbon footprint are their use of pesticides, the energy used to transport them, and the use of plastic packaging. However, this carbon footprint is still small compared to other fruits.

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

Clementines have an overall carbon footprint of 0.06 kg (0.13 lbs) CO2e per pound of clementines. This is mainly due to factors such as their pesticide use, plastic packaging, and long transportation distances. 

3

Blackberries: The Fruit With No Organic Waste

Blackberries have a low carbon footprint of 0.07kg (0.15) of CO2e per pound of blackberries. The most significant factors contributing to this are their irrigation requirements, pesticide use, refrigerated trucking, and plastic packaging. 

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

The overall carbon footprint of blackberries is low at 0.07kg (0.15) of CO2e per pound of blackberries. The main factors that contribute to this are pesticide and irrigation use, refrigerated transportation, and plastic packaging.

4

Grapefruits: The Low-Irrigation Fruit

Grapefruits have a low carbon footprint of 0.08kg (0.18lb) of CO2e per pound of grapefruit. The main factors contributing to this are their mechanical harvesting and processing, the use of plastic and styrofoam packaging, and their low composting rates.

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

The overall carbon footprint of grapefruits is low at 0.08kg (0.18lb) of CO2e per pound of grapefruit. This is mainly caused by mechanization during the harvesting and processing stages, the use of styrofoam and plastic packaging, and low composting rates.

5

Lemons: The Fruit With Significant Pesticides

The carbon footprint of lemons is 0.09kg (0.19lbs) CO2e per pound of lemons, which is fairly low compared to other fruits. The main contributing factors to their carbon footprint are the pesticides used in production, long transportation distances, and the lack of proper waste management.

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

  • Growing of lemons: Lemons have a moderate climate footprint when it comes to their growing stage. The main contributors to the lemon’s carbon footprint are excess irrigation and the use of pesticides
  • Harvesting, processing, and packaging of lemons: Harvesting, processing, and packaging do not contribute very significantly to the carbon footprint of lemons. The biggest contribution is paper-based packaging
  • Transporting of lemons: The carbon footprint of lemon transportation is relatively high, since most lemons consumed in the US are foreign-grown. Refrigerated cargo containers also contribute to the overall transportation carbon footprint of lemons. 
  • End-of-life of lemons: Waste accounts for a significant amount of the carbon footprint of lemons. This is mainly due to most of the food waste going into landfills, where they contribute to greenhouse gasses. 

The overall carbon footprint for lemons is around 0.09kg (0.19lbs) CO2e per pound of lemons consumed in the US. This is mainly due to the transportation requirements to get them from to American grocery stores, the waste management of their peels, and some of the pesticide practices used. But despite these drawbacks, lemons are still a sustainable choice.

6

Pineapples: The Fruit With High Land Usage

Pineapples have a carbon footprint of 0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapple. This is largely due to their high pesticide use, the transportation emissions to get them from Costa Rica to the US, and their low composting rates.

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

The overall carbon footprint of pineapples is 0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapple. There are many factors that contribute to this relatively small carbon footprint, including low-density agricultural practices, high pesticide use, and considerable transportation times. However, despite these things, the carbon footprint of pineapples is still very low compared to most other fruits. 

7

Raspberries: The Fruit That Uses Significant Plastic Packaging

Raspberries have a fairly low carbon footprint of 0.15kg (0.33lb) of CO2e per pound of raspberries. This footprint is mainly caused by their high-growth resources, including land use, irrigation, and pesticides. They also require plastic packaging and refrigerated transportation from Mexico. 

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

The overall carbon footprint of raspberries is 0.15kg (0.33lb) of CO2e per pound of raspberries. The main factors that contribute to this footprint are their low yields per hectare, irrigation requirements, high pesticide use, plastic packaging, and refrigerated transportation. 

8

Apricots: The Styrofoam Packaged Fruit

Apricots have a low carbon footprint of 0.16kg (0.36lb) of CO2e per pound of apricots. This is mainly because of their high pesticide use, refrigerated trucking, mechanized harvesting, and styrofoam packaging. 

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

The overall carbon footprint of apricots is low at 0.16kg (0.36lb) of CO2e per pound of apricots. The main factors that contribute to this are pesticide use, styrofoam packaging, and refrigerated transportation. 

9

Peaches: The Machine-Picked Fruit

The carbon footprint of peaches is 0.17kg (0.38lbs) CO2e per pound of peaches. The main factors contributing to this are long transportation distances, the amount of pesticides used, and improper waste disposal. However, peaches are still moderate on the scale of fruit carbon footprints.

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

The overall carbon footprint of peaches is 0.17kg (0.38lbs) CO2e per pound of peaches. This is mainly due to their transportation and waste management. The vast distances required to get peaches into American grocery stores drives their carbon footprint up considerably. However, in other areas, they can be quite sustainable. 

10

Limes: The Fruit With High Refrigeration Needs

The carbon footprint of limes is low at 0.18kg (0.39lb) of CO2e per pound of limes. This is mainly caused by their irrigation requirements, high use of pesticides, mechanized harvesting, and refrigerated transportation from Mexico. 

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

The overall carbon footprint of limes is 0.18kg (0.39lb) of CO2e per pound of limes. The main factors that contribute to this are the use of pesticides and irrigation, as well as refrigerated transportation 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. 

Despite the fact that these are all low-carbon fruits, some of the carbon risks 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 peaches, which typically come from China or Spain. 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 2024 List” to find the best carbon offset providers for your personal carbon emissions and those associated to, e.g., eating fruits.

Final Thoughts

The fruits outlined here have relatively low carbon footprints. However, 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 fruits even further!

Stay impactful,

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