Is Eating Clementines Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Clementines Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:22 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,

Clementines have been popular for centuries. They contain just 35 calories and are full of vitamin C and antioxidants. Sometimes known as mandarin oranges, clementines are native to South and Southeast Asia, but are now grown all over the world. However, clementines can also have some unethical and unsustainable practices associated with them. So we had to ask: Is eating clementines ethical and sustainable?

Eating clementines is slightly unethical. This is mainly because the clementine industry has been accused of some worker endangerment. However, they haven’t been involved in any major reported incidents of child or forced labor. 

Eating clementines is fairly unsustainable. This is largely because of the type of fertilizers and the amount of pesticides used, as well as their high irrigation requirements. However, they still have a very low carbon footprint compared to other fruits. 

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

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

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 clementines. 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 clementines—leave an impact on people, animals, and our environment. And when it comes to food in general—and clementines in specific—the following are key factors for their ethics and sustainability:

To understand the overall environmental impact of clementines, 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 clementines is ethical & sustainable.

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Clementines Is

The overall ethics & sustainability of clementines is fairly low. The industry has been reported to engage in worker endangerment, as well as many unsustainable practices like monoculture farming, high pesticide usage, and plastic packaging. 

Clementines have some good qualities when it comes to ethics and sustainability. For example, the industry isn’t involved in major accusations of child or forced labor and has a very small carbon footprint. However, they still have a lot of unsustainable and unethical qualities. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of clementinesClementines’ social and economic conditions are slightly bad. The worst ethical issues in the clementine industry are exposure to dangerous chemicals and migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. 
Seasonality of clementinesClementines’ seasonality is between October and January and they aren’t widely available outside of this season. 
Land requirements for clementinesClementines’ land requirements are fairly high, yielding only 16 tons per hectare. They also farm in monocultures and have been linked to deforestation, meaning that they are very unsustainable at this stage. 
Water footprint of clementinesClementines have a moderate water footprint of 50 inches of water per year. Because of where they grow, they need considerable irritation, which raises their footprint significantly. 
Agrochemical usage for clementinesClementines’ agrochemical use is very high. This, paired with the fact that they use phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers means that they are very unsustainable in this area. 
Carbon footprint of clementinesThe 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 relatively small compared to other fruits. 
Waste generation of clementinesClementines’ waste generation is high. This is especially true considering the low recycling rates of their wood and plastic packaging, as well as their low composting rates. 

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 clementines’ ethics & sustainability.

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

Clementines’ social and economic conditions are slightly bad. The worst ethical issues in the clementine industry are exposure to dangerous chemicals and migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. 

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 clementine industry fares in relation to these ethical questions.

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

In short, the clementine industry’s use of harmful pesticides and its effect on workers, as well as the possibility of migrant worker exploitation mean that they are a slightly unethical fruit. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Clementines

Clementines’ seasonality is between October and January and they aren’t widely available outside of this season. 

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 clementine industry accommodates year-round demand.

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

  • When is the natural season for growing and harvesting clementines: Clementines are typically in season during the autumn and winter, from October to January. Clementines are typically not available outside of this season. 
  • How are clementines naturally grown in-season: In-season clementines are typically grown in California, meaning they are fairly sustainable if you live in the US.
  • How are clementines grown out-of-season: Clementines are not typically available outside of their season, and so you will likely not have the option to buy them when they would potentially be less sustainable. 

In short, clementine seasonality does not have a significant impact on their sustainability, because they are sustainable in-season and generally unavailable out of season. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Clementines

Clementines’ land requirements are fairly high, yielding only 16 tons per hectare. They also farm in monocultures and have been linked to deforestation, meaning they are very 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 clementines’ land usage affects their sustainability.

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

In short, clementines’ use of monoculture farming, low land yield, and participation in deforestation means they can be very unsustainable in this area.

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Clementines

Clementines have a moderate water footprint of 50 inches of water per year. Because of where they grow, they need considerable irritation, which raises their footprint significantly. 

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 clementines’ water footprint.

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

In short, clementines are very unsustainable, mainly due to their high irrigation needs and significant pesticide usage.

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Clementines

Clementines’ agrochemical use is very high. This, paired with the fact that they use phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers means that they are very unsustainable in this area. 

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 clementines’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

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

In short, clementines’ use of excessive agrochemicals, especially phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers, is very unsustainable.

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Clementines

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 relatively small compared to other fruits. 

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 clementines contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of clementines?

In short, though clementines have some carbon-emitting steps to their production process, their carbon footprint is still one of the lowest among fruits. 

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

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Clementines

Clementines’ waste generation is high. This is especially true considering the low recycling rates of their wood and plastic packaging, as well as their low composting rates. 

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 clementines’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of clementines?

In short, clementines’ use of plastic and wood in their packaging, as well as their low composting rates, means that they contribute to landfills significantly, which is very unsustainable. 

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

The clementine industry has historically done some unethical and unsustainable things. They frequently have used harmful chemicals like nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, as well as requiring significant irrigation, all of which have damaging effects on the environment and workers. 

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 clementines have fared throughout history.

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

In short, clementines’ history of worker endangerment and land clearing in Spain and Italy, as well as their use of irrigation and pesticides, and phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers, have caused them to have a detrimental impact on the environment and people over the years.

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

There are a few things you can do to make your clementine consumption more ethical and sustainable, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and clementine-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 Clementines More Ethically & Sustainably

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

  1. Buy clementines with less (plastic) packaging: This might come at the cost of nicks and bruises, but reducing or even omitting plastic from your clementine footprint is crucial. Even avoiding more easily-recyclable materials like cardboard and wood can make your clementines more sustainable. One of the best ways to do this is to buy clementines individually from the grocery store, not in bags or crates. 
  2. Buy organic clementines: Organic farms generally avoid nitrogen fertilizers and so they are good to support if you want to reduce your fertilizer impact. Plus, if your clementines don’t have as many chemicals, it will be safer for the workers who harvest them. If you make sure to buy organic clementines, you will be able to make your clementine consumption more sustainable. 
  3. Compost and recycle: Another major contributor to the clementines’ unsustainability is improper waste disposal. Make sure that you compost all organic waste and recycle all paper waste to prevent them from ending up in landfills. If you don’t have a government-run composting or recycling program in your area, consider making your own compost and even using cardboard as roughage.

Following some of these methods can really help you to make your clementine-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 clementine 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 clementine agriculture, towards a more sustainable future.

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where clementine 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 clementine 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 clementines!

“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 clementines:

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 clementines. 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 clementines – 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 clementines, 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 clementines.

Final Thoughts

Though clementines have an extremely low carbon footprint, they still participate in some very unsustainable practices, as well as unethical ones. Their fertilizer usage causes significant damage to waterways, their pesticides are harmful to wildlife, and their irrigation needs put strains on natural resources. The industry has also been accused of worker exploitation and endangerment. However, there are lots of ways you can still consume clementines while being more sustainable and ethical, such as reducing packaging or contributing to environmental charities. These will help you be a more positively impactful clementine consumer!

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