Is Eating Grapefruits Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Grapefruits 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,

Grapefruits are the cousin of the citrus family, known for their semi-sweet, bitter taste. They are a breakfast staple, with lots of fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin A to help you start your day. Grapefruits are incredibly popular, with the grapefruit industry valued at $8 billion in 2018 and projected to grow to over $11 billion by 2027. But grapefruit production can also have some unethical and unsustainable impacts. So we had to ask: Is eating grapefruits ethical and sustainable?

Eating grapefruits is moderately ethical. Grapefruits don’t have major dangers associated with their farming, and they lack many significant reports of labor violations, especially in the US. However, there are some labor issues associated with the Moroccan grapefruit industry. 

Eating grapefruits is moderately sustainable. They engage in monoculture farming, contribution to deforestation, and plastic and styrofoam packaging. However, they also have many sustainable qualities, such as a low carbon footprint, low pesticide usage, and low irrigation requirements. 

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

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

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

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

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Grapefruits Is

The overall ethics & sustainability of grapefruits is decent. They only engage in a few unethical and unsustainable practices, such as lower wages, monoculture farming, and plastic and styrofoam packaging. They are more ethical and sustainable than many other fruits. 

Grapefruits have a lot of positive qualities when it comes to ethics and sustainability. They don’t have major reports of child labor, they are grown in the US year-round, and they only need a small amount of irrigation. However, there are still some ethical issues that you should be aware of when buying grapefruits. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of grapefruitsGrapefruits’ social and economic conditions are adequate. The industry doesn’t engage in many unethical practices, especially compared to some other fruits. However, there is evidence that it is occasionally involved in exploitative migrant worker programs. 
Seasonality of grapefruitsGrapefruits’ seasonality is the same year-round. Since they are grown in the US, they are fairly sustainable.
Land requirements for grapefruitsGrapefruits’ land requirements are moderate. However, their use of monoculture agriculture and participation in desertification and deforestation mean that their land use is not very sustainable overall.
Water footprint of grapefruitsGrapefruits have a moderately high water requirement of around 60 inches of water per year. Because of where they grow, they require a small amount of irrigation. They also use significant plastic packaging, which impacts natural water sources negatively. 
Agrochemical usage for grapefruitsThe agrochemical usage for grapefruits is moderate. While their pesticide use is low, they are fertilized with nitrogen fertilizer, which is very unsustainable. 
Carbon footprint of grapefruitsGrapefruits have a low carbon footprint of 0.08kg (0.18lb) of CO2e per pound of grapefruit. This is mainly caused by the mechanization required during the harvesting and processing stages, the use of styrofoam and plastic packaging, and low composting rates.
Waste generation of grapefruitsGrapefruits’ waste generation is very high. This is mainly because they use hard-to-recycle materials like plastic and styrofoam in their packaging.

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 grapefruits’ ethics & sustainability.

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

Grapefruits’ social and economic conditions are adequate. The industry doesn’t engage in many unethical practices, especially compared to some other fruits. However, there is evidence that it is occasionally involved in exploitative migrant worker programs. 

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 grapefruit industry fares in relation to these ethical questions.

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

  • Are farmers paid fair wages to grow grapefruits: Grapefruit pickers in the US make around $7.45 per hour, plus benefits. This is slightly higher than the minimum wage in the country. However, living off of minimum wage in the US is becoming increasingly difficult, with workers earning minimum wage for a family of four being significantly below the poverty line. So, while grapefruit pickers’ wages are technically legal, many of them likely live below the poverty line. 
  • How safe are the working conditions to grow grapefruits: Like with all tree fruits, grapefruits come with some hazards for pickers, such as falling from tall ladders and ergonomic back pain. These, however, are minor dangers compared to many other fruits like peaches, which also have additional risks such as chemical exposure. 
  • Are there reports of child or forced labor to grow grapefruits: There are no major accounts of grapefruit using child or forced labor. 
  • What is the wider economic impact on the communities that grow grapefruits: Though grapefruit farmers do make at least minimum wage, many of them are migrant workers, especially in Florida. Migrant workers are generally workers from South or Central America that are in the US because they are contracted to a particular farm. This can help people from countries with high unemployment rates find work, but it also means that they are vulnerable to exploitation. They often live on-site and are subject to poor housing conditions

In short, the fact that grapefruits are farmed using migrant labor programs can compromise their ethics, but they are otherwise a somewhat ethical fruit. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Grapefruits

Grapefruits’ seasonality is the same year-round. Since they are grown in the US, they are fairly sustainable.

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 grapefruit industry accommodates year-round demand.

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

  • When is the natural season for growing and harvesting grapefruits: Grapefruits are more widely available during the winter months, although they are still available year-round. 
  • How are grapefruits naturally grown in-season: Grapefruits are grown on trees in orchards. Grapefruit trees don’t produce usable grapefruits until their third year of growth. Individual grapefruits take a long time to mature, on average 9 months and sometimes up to a year to grow, depending on climate. After this, they can be harvested year-round within the US, meaning they are fairly sustainable. 
  • How are grapefruits grown out-of-season: Grapefruits are available within the US year-round and so they are fairly sustainable, no matter the time of year. 

In short, seasonality does not have a major impact on grapefruits’ sustainability, since they are in season all year in the US. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Grapefruits

Grapefruits’ land requirements are moderate. However, their use of monoculture agriculture and participation in desertification and deforestation mean that their land use is not very sustainable overall.

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 grapefruits’ land usage affects their sustainability.

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

In short, grapefruit land usage, though economical, still contributes to very unsustainable phenomena such as desertification and deforestation. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Grapefruits

Grapefruits have a moderately high water requirement of around 60 inches of water per year. Because of where they grow, they require a small amount of irrigation. They also use significant plastic packaging, which impacts natural water sources negatively. 

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 grapefruits’ water footprint.

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

In short, grapefruits have a very unsustainable water footprint because of their use of irrigation and plastic and styrofoam packaging. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Grapefruits

The agrochemical usage for grapefruits is moderate. While their pesticide use is low, they are fertilized with nitrogen fertilizer, which is very unsustainable. 

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 grapefruits’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

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

In short, grapefruits’ agrochemical usage is moderately unsustainable. On the one hand, their pesticide use is low. But on the other hand, they use nitrogen, one of the most harmful fertilizers. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Grapefruits

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

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 grapefruits contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of grapefruits?

In short, grapefruits have one of the lowest carbon footprints among fruits. While they do have some emission-heavy components, they are overall one of the most carbon-conscious fruits you can buy.

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

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Grapefruits

Grapefruits’ waste generation is very high. This is mainly because they use hard-to-recycle materials like plastic and styrofoam in their packaging. 

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 grapefruits’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of grapefruits?

  • What is the packaging of grapefruits: Grapefruits use mainly plastic and styrofoam in their packaging. Both of these materials are very unsustainable in their manufacturing process. Styrofoam’s impact mainly comes from toxic chemicals leaked during their production. Plastic also has devastating impacts, creating air and water pollution which is harmful to people and wildlife. 
  • How is the packaging of grapefruits disposed of: Both plastic and styrofoam have very low recycling rates, at 9% and 1%, respectively. This means that the majority of grapefruit packaging is going to end up in landfills. Landfills are very unsustainable because of their high greenhouse gas emissions, chemical runoff, and land clearing
  • How are grapefruits disposed of: Grapefruits have peels that are not generally eaten. They can technically be composted, but unfortunately, only 4% of food waste is actually composted. Even worse, when food waste is in landfills, it releases a greenhouse gas called methane. Because of this low recycling rate, grapefruit waste is significantly unsustainable. 

In short, grapefruits’ use of plastic and styrofoam packaging, as well as their low composting rates, means that their waste generation is very unsustainable.

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

The grapefruit industry has historically engaged in some unethical and unsustainable practices. This is mainly due to workers being exploited in Morocco, monoculture farming techniques, nitrogen fertilizer usage, and land consumption. 

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 racked up some serious environmental damage along the way. Whether it’s deforestation to meet demand, water pollution, or disruption of wildlife. Let’s see how grapefruits have fared throughout history. 

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

  • Has labor been exploited because of grapefruits production: There have been reports of worker exploitation, especially of women workers, in the Moroccan grapefruit industry. These reports show that not all grapefruits are farmed ethically and so you should still be careful about where you are buying your grapefruits from. 
  • How much land has been lost because of grapefruit production: Citrus has historically been one of the biggest fruit markets, especially in the US. For example, in Florida alone, it accounts for over 150,000 hectares of farmland. Florida’s wetlands have been negatively affected by agricultural farming in the region, partially due to grapefruit farming. 
  • Which wildlife species have been negatively impacted or displaced because of grapefruit production: Wildlife is very negatively affected by monocultures. Grapefruits’ use of monoculture farming has affected the biodiversity of many regions over the years, especially in Florida. 
  • Have water sources and soil been contaminated because of grapefruits production: Nitrogen fertilizer has had a very devastating effect on waterways. It has been damaging to significant amounts of soil, groundwater, and freshwater. The fact that grapefruit uses this fertilizer means that it has greatly impacted these ecosystems over the years. 

In short, grapefruits’ use of worker exploitation in Morocco, land clearance, monoculture farming, and nitrogen fertilizer are all majorly unethical and unsustainable aspects of the grapefruit industry. 

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

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

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

  1. Buy US grapefruits: Though the US grapefruit market isn’t perfect, other countries like Morocco have a worse track record when it comes to the treatment of grapefruit farmers. Plus, US grapefruits require less transportation than Moroccan grapefruits and thus are more sustainable. 
  2. Support raising the federal minimum wage: Since the minimum wage, which many grapefruit farmers earn, is no longer enough to keep people above the poverty line, it will greatly help them if the minimum wage is raised. This will force farm owners to pay their workers a fairer wage. 
  3. Compost your grapefruit peels: Food waste in landfills is very unsustainable. If you want to really help make your grapefruit consumption more sustainable, you should make an effort to compost your grapefruit peels. If your city doesn’t have a composting system, you can consider making one yourself
  4. Re-use your grapefruit peels: Even better than composting is using the whole fruit in the first place! There are a multitude of uses for grapefruit peels, including making candy, teas, liqueurs, and even cleaning supplies

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

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where grapefruit 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 grapefruit 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 grapefruits!

“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 grapefruits:

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 grapefruits. 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 grapefruits – 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 grapefruits, 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 grapefruits.

Final Thoughts

Grapefruits are certainly not the worst among fruits when it comes to ethics and sustainability. They engage in more ethical labor practices and avoid more unsustainable qualities than many other fruits. However, there are still concerns, such as the chance of migrant worker exploitation and monoculture farming that mean grapefruits don’t get off completely free. Luckily, there are many things you can do to minimize these impacts, such as minimizing your packaging waste, and supporting environmentally and ethically-conscious organizations and policies that can help create a huge positive impact!

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