Is Eating Blackberries Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Blackberries Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:21 Minutes

CLICK TO
SUBSCRIBE

follow follow

Impactful Ninja is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more Learn more .

Affiliate Disclosure

Hey fellow impactful ninja ?

You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.

  • Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.

  • But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.

Why do we add these product links?

First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.

And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

What do these affiliate links mean for you?
  1. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.

  3. And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.

What do these affiliate links mean for us?
  1. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).

  3. And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.

What does this mean for me personally?

You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.

Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.

Stay impactful,

Blackberry picking is a favorite pastime of many Americans. The blackberry industry itself is worth over $38 million, with 51.3 million lbs produced every year. Hailed as a “superfood”, blackberries are teeming with many essential nutrients, not to mention their delicious tangy flavor. However, many parts of the blackberry farming and production process can be very unsustainable and unethical. So we had to ask: Is eating blackberries ethical and sustainable?

Eating blackberries is very unethical. The blackberry industry has been associated with child and forced labor in Mexico and pesticide hazards to workers in the US. However, many Mexican blackberry pickers make more than minimum wage. 

Eating blackberries is very unsustainable. This is mainly because they use pesticides, nitrogen fertilizers, and plastic packaging, and have high irrigation rates. Nonetheless, some of their upsides include occasional polyculture farming and a low carbon footprint. 

In this article, we will assess both the ethical and sustainability practices of the blackberry industry. Through these two lenses, you will be able to gain in-depth knowledge of the overall impacts of the blackberries that you eat!

Here’s How We Assessed the Ethics & Sustainability of Blackberries

The Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) is one of the ways we measure the externalities of our actions, like the consumption of blackberries. It is a holistic assessment based on the potential impact of food and agriculture operations on the environment and people. Those impacts are changes in our environment that can have adverse effects on the air, land, water, fish, and wildlife or the inhabitants of the ecosystem.

Ethical: The discipline concerned with what is morally good and bad and morally right and wrong”

Encyclopedia Britannica

Ethics and sustainability are closely interconnected concepts that share a common objective: the well-being and preservation of our planet, including all its life and future generations.

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

Basically, all goods and services you buy—including blackberries—leave an impact on people, animals, and our environment. And when it comes to food in general—and blackberries in specific—the following are key factors for their ethics and sustainability:

To understand the overall ethics and sustainability of blackberries, we must assess each of their key factors. This Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) is a tool developed for assessing the impact of food and agriculture operations on the environment and people. And this tool helps us to evaluate whether eating blackberries is ethical & sustainable.

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Blackberries Is

The overall ethics & sustainability of blackberries is very negative. The main factors that contribute to this are the prevalence of child and forced labor within the industry, high irrigation rates, pesticide usage, nitrogen fertilizers, and plastic packaging. 

There are some ethical and sustainable qualities to blackberries. For example, some workers in the Mexican blackberry industry make more than minimum wage. They also have a very low carbon footprint and don’t always use monoculture farming, which can be damaging to the environment. However, the vast majority of blackberries’ qualities are very unethical and unsustainable. 

So, let’s have a look at the ethics & sustainability impact of each key factor of blackberries!

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of blackberriesBlackberries’ social and economic conditions are very bad. The industry participates in child labor, forced labor, as well as low wages and dangerous working conditions. 
Seasonality of blackberriesBlackberries’ seasonality is fairly short, running from August to September. Outside of this season, they are typically imported from Mexico. 
Land requirements for blackberriesBlackberries’ land requirements are moderate. For instance, the industry contributes to soil erosion and often uses harmful monoculture farming methods. However, they occasionally use polyculture farming and blackberry plants have carbon storing properties. So, overall they are only moderately unsustainable at this stage.
Water footprint of blackberriesBlackberries have a moderate to high water requirement of 50–100 inches of water per year. Because of where they are grown, they also require a significant amount of irrigation, which lowers their sustainability. 
Agrochemical usage for blackberriesBlackberries’ agrochemical use is high. They use a significant amount of pesticides and harmful nitrogen fertilizers, which cause their sustainability to be low at this stage. 
Carbon footprint of blackberriesBlackberries have an incredibly 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. 
Waste generation of blackberriesBlackberries’ waste generation is moderate. While they don’t produce any organic waste, their use of plastic packaging is very unsustainable.

These are the overall summaries, but there is a lot more to the story. In the next few sections, we will dive deeper into each stage to illustrate to you all the important aspects of blackberries’ ethics & sustainability.

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Social and Economic Conditions for Blackberries

Blackberries’ social and economic conditions are very bad. The industry participates in child labor, forced labor, as well as low wages and dangerous working conditions.

Everything we consume was made or harvested by somebody. In past centuries, this was often someone who lived in your community and who you might have even known personally. But through the rise of globalized distribution systems, we have become increasingly alienated from the people who make our food. This leaves a lot of room for exploitation and abuse, both of which are rampant in the food industry. Here, we will look at how the blackberry industry fares in relation to these ethical questions.

How ethical & sustainable are the social and economic conditions of growing blackberries?

In short, the blackberry industry’s use of heinous practices like child and forced labor, as well as risks to workers from high pesticide use and low wages make blackberries an extremely unethical fruit. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Blackberries

Blackberries’ seasonality is fairly short, running from August to September. Outside of this season, they are typically imported from Mexico. 

Every fruit has a natural season in which they grow, usually lasting a couple of months, which can range depending on the region. However, international demand for every kind of fruit is year-round. This demand is often met by importing fruits from tropical places which can grow year-round, or by growing them in greenhouses. Both of these methods use more resources and are thus less sustainable than conventional farming. Here, we will look at how the blackberry industry accommodates year-round demand.

How ethical & sustainable is it to grow blackberries in-season vs out-of-season?

  • When is the natural season for growing and harvesting blackberries: Blackberries are in season from August to September. This means that they will be more widely available in North America during this time and thus are more sustainable. 
  • How are blackberries naturally grown in-season: Blackberries grow on bushes. Most US-grown blackberries come from the Pacific Northwest. If you buy blackberries during their season, they will likely be coming from states like Washington and Oregon and so will require less transportation than those from Mexico. 
  • How are blackberries grown out-of-season: Outside of their short season, blackberries mainly grow in Mexico. This means that they will require significant transportation and are less sustainable. 

In short, blackberries’ short season means that they are imported for much of the year, and are thus fairly unsustainable most of the time. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Blackberries

Blackberries’ land requirements are moderate. For instance, the industry contributes to soil erosion and often uses harmful monoculture farming methods. However, they occasionally use polyculture farming and blackberry plants have carbon storing properties. So, overall they are only moderately unsustainable at this stage.

Illustration of global land use for food production
Our World in Data: Global land use for food production

The growth stage has a major impact on fruits’ sustainability. The amount of land used, especially in relation to its expansion, the method with which they are grown, and their effect on surrounding land and wildlife are all important factors. In this section, we will look at the ways in which blackberries’ land usage affects their sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable are the land requirements for growing blackberries?

  • What is the land usage of blackberries: Blackberries yield around 22 tons per hectare. This is a moderately average yield for a fruit. For example, strawberries yield up to 25 tons per hectare, and bananas up to 100.
  • Where and how are blackberries grown: Most blackberries grow in North America, with Oregon being the most common blackberry-growing state. Blackberries are grown on bushes, which have good carbon-sequestering properties, storing around 1.6% more carbon than a grass-covered area
  • Are blackberries grown in a monoculture or polyculture: Blackberries are sometimes invasive, and as such, they can turn areas into monocultures even when they are wild. Generally, they are farmed in monocultures. However, they are also sometimes farmed in polycultures. Monocultures are very bad for the environment, and so the fact that they are only sometimes farmed in this style is good news for their sustainability. 
  • How does the growing of blackberries affect soil fertility and erosion: Blackberries have fairly weak root systems, which means that they can leave soil vulnerable to erosion. Soil erosion is very unsustainable. 
  • How does the blackberries industry affect the loss of habitable land: Blackberries don’t contribute significantly to deforestation. However, they can have a particular effect on cleared areas after deforestation, damaging livestock and preventing healthy restoration. 
  • How does the blackberry industry affect wildlife and biodiversity: Monoculture farming can be harmful to wildlife because of the lack of varied food sources. However, because blackberries don’t exclusively use monocultures, they don’t contribute too much damage compared to other fruits that exclusively use monoculture farming methods such as apples

In short, blackberries’ moderate land yield and occasional use of polyculture farming means that they are somewhat sustainable. However, they still contribute to erosion and decreases in land fertility, so they are fairly unsustainable overall. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Blackberries

Blackberries have a moderate to high water requirement of 50–100 inches of water per year. Because of where they are grown, they also require a significant amount of irrigation, which lowers their sustainability.

Water usage is one of the most important factors in a fruit’s sustainability. Practices like irrigation use significant resources and can cause pollution, and as such, factors like the amount of water used, where it is sourced, as well as the way they affect the water sources around them, are all important. Here, we will look at these different angles of blackberries’ water footprint.

How ethical & sustainable is the water footprint of growing blackberries?

In short, blackberries’ need for significant irrigation and high use of pesticides means that their water sustainability is very low. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Blackberries

Blackberries’ agrochemical use is high. They use a significant amount of pesticides and harmful nitrogen fertilizers, which cause their sustainability to be low at this stage. 

Pesticides and fertilizers are agrochemicals that are very unsustainable and damaging to ecosystems. This is because they require resources to create and can easily run off into groundwater and soil systems. Here, we will look at how sustainable blackberries’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

How ethical & sustainable is the agrochemical usage of growing blackberries?

In short, the fact that blackberries use a high amount of agrochemicals means that they are very unsustainable in this category. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Blackberries

Blackberries have an incredibly 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. 

Illustration of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production
Our World in Data: Global greenhouse gas emissions from food production

Carbon footprint is one aspect of the overall sustainability of a fruit. It essentially measures how much carbon or other greenhouse gasses the production of fruits emits into the atmosphere. Emissions from product manufacturing, irrigation, transportation fuel, and landfills all add up to create the overall carbon footprint of a fruit. Let’s see how the carbon footprint of blackberries contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of blackberries?

  • What is the overall carbon footprint of blackberries: The overall carbon footprint of blackberries is very low at 0.07kg (0.15) of CO2e per pound of blackberries. This means that for every pound of blackberries produced, 0.07kg of carbon is released into the atmosphere. This is a very low carbon footprint compared to other fruits. 
  • What are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of blackberries: The main factors that contribute to blackberries’ carbon footprint are pesticide and irrigation use, as well as refrigerated transportation and plastic packaging.
  • Which life-cycle stage of blackberries has the highest carbon footprint: The stage that contributes the most to blackberries’ carbon footprint is growth. This is because of the resources, such as pesticides and irrigation, that blackberries consume during this stage. 

In short, blackberries have a very small carbon footprint compared to other fruits, despite some factors like refrigeration and irrigation that can drive up their emissions. 

Related: Check out our full article on “What Is the Carbon Footprint of Blackberries? A Life-Cycle Analysis” to find out all about the carbon footprint of blackberries and how each stage of their life-cycle contributes to it (plus, what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping for blackberries).

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Blackberries

Blackberries’ waste generation is moderate. While they don’t produce any organic waste, their use of plastic packaging is very unsustainable.

When fruit waste, either in the form of packaging or organic materials, is disposed of, it can cause a lot of problems. Whether it’s damaging wildlife, getting into oceans, emitting methane, or dissolving into microplastics that contaminate groundwater, all these materials have their part to play. The sheer amount of waste we produce is reaching a crisis point and won’t be able to continue much longer. In this section, we will look at how sustainable blackberries’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of blackberries?

In short, blackberries’ food waste is very unsustainable, mainly because of their use of plastic packaging. 

What Have Been Historical Ethics & Sustainability Issues Connected to the Blackberry Industry

The blackberry industry has historically been somewhat harmful to land, wildlife, and workers. Some contributing factors include pesticides endangering workers, the use of nitrogen fertilizers, and significant land usage. 

All fruits have had a complex road toward global distribution. They originate in one part of the world and often travel far to end up in your local supermarket. From farm to table, some of our favorite fruits have used unsustainable practices. Whether it’s exploiting labor, deforestation to meet demand, water pollution, or disruption of wildlife, most fruits have left a path of destruction. Many of these effects are still felt today or have even increased. Let’s see how blackberries have fared throughout history.

What have been the key ethical & sustainable issues of the blackberry industry?

  • Has labor been exploited because of blackberries production: A major workplace safety violation within the blackberry industry happened when an 18-year-old worker in the US alleged that pesticides used on the farm had made her seriously ill. The farm ignored her claims, even refusing to reveal the name of the pesticide that had caused her symptoms. Issues like this show that the US blackberry industry can not only expose workers to unsafe conditions, but also refuse to take responsibility. 
  • How much land has been lost because of blackberry production: A significant amount of land has been used for blackberry farming. For example, in Oregon alone, blackberry farming takes up just over 6,000 acres. Because blackberries are invasive, they also pose a threat to local plants, sometimes inadvertently choking out everything in their path. 
  • Which wildlife species have been negatively impacted or displaced because of blackberries production: Pesticide use has had a significantly negative historical impact on wildlife populations. Pesticides get into soil and water, rising up the food chain and being consumed by many different species. This has caused wildlife to have limited or contaminated food sources, resulting in declining populations. Blackberries’ high use of pesticides has been particularly damaging to wildlife over the years. 
  • Have water sources and soil been contaminated because of blackberry production: Nitrogen fertilizer is particularly damaging to waterways. The algae that are promoted in their growth can be very damaging to aquatic life and can spread easily to nearby rivers, streams, and lakes. Blackberries’ heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer means that they have caused some serious harm to waterways over the years. 

In short, blackberries have had some major unethical and unsustainable impacts over the years. This is mainly due to the risk of worker endangerment, significant land use, pesticides, and nitrogen fertilizers. 

How Can You Reduce Your Environmental Impact and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

There are a few things you can do to make your blackberry consumption more ethical and sustainable, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and blackberry-related carbon emissions, which work to remove carbon emissions elsewhere that are then attributed to you. Here, we will walk you through how to accomplish both of these things.

How Can You Shop for Blackberries More Ethically & Sustainably

In this section, we give you a short list of ways you can consume blackberries in a more sustainable way. This list is designed to target the most unsustainable parts of blackberries’ life-cycle:

  1. Buy organic blackberries: Pesticides are one of the biggest concerns when it comes to blackberries’ sustainability. Organic farms generally avoid high amounts of chemical pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers and so they are good to support if you want to reduce your pesticide and fertilizer impact. Plus, organic produce lessens the risk of pesticide poisoning damaging workers health.
  2. Limit your blueberry consumption to August and September: Blackberries that are in-season will be likely grown in the US, which cuts down on transportation fuel. Additionally, though there are problems in US blackberry farms, Mexico has more ethical issues, especially with forced and child labor. Therefore, in-season blackberries are more ethical and sustainable than out-of-season ones. 
  3. Avoid plastic packaging: Most blackberries come in plastic packaging. However, there are still a significant amount that come in open-top cardboard containers, especially from local farmers. Cardboard has a far higher recycling rate than plastic—89%—and so is much less likely to end up in a landfill. It can also be composted.
  4. Consume your blackberries as soon as you buy them: Because blackberries have a shorter shelf life than many other fruits, they are more likely to go to waste. Making sure that you eat them as soon as you buy them will help you avoid adding blackberry waste to the landfill. 

Following some of these methods can really help you to make your blackberry-eating more sustainable. None of these will completely eradicate the negative impacts, since there are always effects that may be outside of your control. But some reduction is always better than nothing!

Which Organizations Can You Support to Help Promote Ethics & Sustainability

While blackberry production engages in some very unsustainable practices, there are also some organizations that help you change the parts of these processes that would otherwise be outside of your control. These organizations are working hard to prevent and reverse damage to the environment caused by industries like blackberry agriculture, towards a more sustainable future.

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where blackberry production are very unsustainable—and beyond:

Overall ethics & sustainabilityBest charities that advance ethics worldwide
Best charities that promote sustainability
Social and economic impactBest charities that help farmers
SeasonalityBest charities that fight to protect our environment
Land requirementsBest charities for reforestation
Best wildlife conservation charities
Best charities for protecting the Amazon rainforest
Water footprintBest charities that fight for clean water
Best charities that help conserve our rivers
Best charities to save our oceans
Agrochemical usageBest charities for helping farm animals
Carbon footprintBest charities for climate change
Best carbon offsets for individuals
Waste generationBest charities that fight to reduce food waste
Best charities that fight to end plastic pollution
Best charities that promote recycling

Though it is helpful to boost the sustainability of your personal blackberry consumption, supporting these organizations takes your positive impact a step further. You will be reaching far beyond your own consumption impacts and helping to build a better world for everyone!

How Can You Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint is a key part of how sustainable we live. And it is one of the ways we measure the effects of our human-induced global climate change. Yes, even from eating blackberries!

Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gasses 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 blackberries:

Illustration of carbon emissions from food
Our World in Data: Emissions from food alone would take us past 1.5°C or 2°C this century

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 blackberries. 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 blackberries – 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 blackberries, 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 blackberries.

Final Thoughts

Blackberries may have a very low carbon footprint, but that doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to ethics and sustainability. Using harmful practices like excessive pesticides and plastic packaging can negatively impact ecosystems, waterways, and soil fertility alike. They also have a track record of endangering workers with pesticides, as well as using child and forced labor in Mexico. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to make your blackberries more ethical and sustainable, such as buying organic blackberries, buying in-season blackberries, or supporting ecological organizations. 

Stay impactful,

Illustration of a signature for Teresa

Sources

Photo of author
Did you like this article?

Get the 5-minute newsletter that makes reading impactful news enjoyable—packed with actionable insights to make a positive impact in your daily life.

Three Related Posts

One Unrelated Post