Is Eating Kiwis Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Kiwis Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:21 Minutes

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Kiwis are a delicious tropical fruit. In popular culture, they are most associated with the nation of New Zealand and their birds of the same name. They are a lucrative industry too, with the global kiwi market worth almost $7 billion as of 2019. Moreover, they pack in a significant amount of fiber and vitamin C. But there can also be some significantly unsustainable and unethical aspects of kiwi production. So we had to ask: Is eating kiwis ethical and sustainable?

Eating kiwis is somewhat unethical. The Italian kiwi industry has been linked to human trafficking, worker exploitation, and endangerment. However, New Zealand kiwi workers have, on average, decent wages. 

Eating kiwis is fairly sustainable. They have low water requirements, pesticide use, and packaging. However, they grow in harmful monocultures. Furthermore, most US-consumed kiwis come from New Zealand so they have to travel long distances, and they generate significant organic waste.

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

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

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

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

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Kiwis Is

The overall ethics & sustainability of kiwis is fairly good. This is because they don’t require too many resources to produce, such as water and pesticides, and the industry has high pay rates in New Zealand. However, they still produce significant organic waste, have been linked to human trafficking, and grow in monocultures. 

The main positive qualities of kiwi production are that they don’t require significant irrigation, have higher compensation rates than other fruit industries, and don’t use a lot of packaging. However, there are still many aspects of their production that are very unethical and unsustainable. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of kiwisKiwis’ social and economic conditions can be very bad. In New Zealand, kiwi pickers make generally high wages, whereas in Italy, they reportedly experience very abusive conditions. 
Seasonality of kiwisKiwis’ seasonality is during the winter in the US, and in the summer in New Zealand, meaning they are somewhat more sustainable to buy in the winter. 
Land requirements for kiwisKiwis’ land requirements are average amongst fruits. However, kiwi farming has become more popular in recent years which has caused damaging habitat loss. Furthermore, the use of monocultures negatively affects soil quality and surrounding wildlife. 
Water footprint of kiwisKiwis are fairly sustainable in terms of their water footprint. This is because they have a low water requirement of 35 inches of water per year which is covered by natural rainfall in New Zealand.
Agrochemical usage for kiwisKiwis pesticide usage is low and their fertilizer usage is minimally harmful. This means that they are reasonably sustainable at this stage.
Carbon footprint of kiwisThe carbon footprint of kiwis is high at 0.56kg (1.24lb) of CO2e per pound of kiwis. This is mainly because they are transported from New Zealand in refrigerated trucks, have long growth durations, use mechanized processing, and suffer from low composting rates. 
Waste generation of kiwisKiwis are delicate so they use a wide variety of packaging materials to protect them from damage. This often ends up in landfill. They also have high organic waste generation.

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 kiwis’ ethics & sustainability.

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

Kiwis’ social and economic conditions can be very bad. In New Zealand, kiwi pickers make generally high wages, whereas in Italy, they reportedly experience very abusive 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 kiwi industry fares in relation to these ethical questions.

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

In short, the ethics of the kiwi industry are very dependent on where they are grown. In general, New Zealand kiwis are more ethical than Italian ones. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Kiwis

Kiwis’ seasonality is during the winter in the US, and in the summer in New Zealand, meaning they are somewhat more sustainable to buy in the winter. 

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 kiwi industry accommodates year-round demand.

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

  • When is the natural season for growing and harvesting kiwis: Kiwis are in season in California between October and May. This means that you will be more likely to find a domestically-grown kiwi during these months. 
  • How are kiwis naturally grown in-season: Kiwis grow on vines. In-season, they can be grown in California, but are also still widely imported from New Zealand during this time. Therefore, just because kiwis are in-season in the US doesn’t mean they aren’t imported. 
  • How are kiwis grown out-of-season: Out of season, during the summer months, kiwis are heavily imported from New Zealand, where they are in season. This means that buying kiwis in the summer requires more transportation than buying them in the winter. 

In short, though kiwis are grown in the US in the winter, they are still imported from New Zealand quite a bit, meaning they are fairly unsustainable year-round, but more unsustainable during the summer. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Kiwis

Kiwis’ land requirements are average amongst fruits. However, kiwi farming has become more popular in recent years which has caused damaging habitat loss. Furthermore, the use of monocultures negatively affects soil quality and surrounding wildlife. 

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 kiwis’ land usage affects their sustainability.

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

In short, the use of monocultures, as well as longer growth times and average land yields mean that kiwis are moderately unsustainable at this stage. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Kiwis

Kiwis are fairly sustainable in terms of their water footprint. This is because they have a low water requirement of 35 inches of water per year which is covered by natural rainfall in New Zealand.

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 kiwis’ water footprint.

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

In short, the fact that kiwis use minimal irrigation and have low pesticide rates means they are fairly sustainable at this stage. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Kiwis

Kiwis pesticide usage is low and their fertilizer usage is minimally harmful. This means that they are reasonably sustainable 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 kiwis’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

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

In short, kiwis’ minimal use of pesticides, as well as their use of less harmful fertilizers, means that their agrochemical usage is fairly sustainable. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Kiwis

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

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 kiwis contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of kiwis?

In short, the high transportation distances, as well as other factors like mechanized processing and refrigeration all contribute to kiwis’ relatively high carbon footprint. 

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

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Kiwis

Kiwis are delicate so they use a wide variety of packaging materials to protect them from damage. This often ends up in landfill. They also have high organic waste generation.

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 kiwis’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of kiwis?

In short, kiwis use a fair amount of packaging and their peels often end up in landfill too. This has a negative impact on local wildlife, soil quality, and creates harmful methane gas. 

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

Kiwis have partaken in some farming practices that have harmed workers and the environment a lot over the years. Some of the damages include worker endangerment, soil and groundwater pollution, and deforestation leading to habitat loss. 

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 damage along the way. Whether it’s exploiting labor, deforestation to meet demand, water pollution, or disruption of wildlife, most fruits have left a path of destruction. Let’s see how kiwis have fared throughout history.

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

In short, kiwi production has had some serious impacts on workers and the environment, from groundwater damage to worker endangerment to wildlife habitat loss. 

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

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

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

  1. Buy in-season kiwis: Imported kiwis have to come a long way from New Zealand to reach the US. Therefore, if you buy kiwis when they are in season in the US, they will be more likely to be domestic, and thus more sustainable. 
  2. Compost your kiwi peels: The low composting rates of kiwis means that their peels almost always end up in landfills. Therefore, one of the best ways you can make your kiwis more sustainable is by making the effort to compost the peels. If your city doesn’t provide composting services, then you can consider making your own compost
  3. Use the whole kiwi: Even better than composting is actually making use of the entire kiwi. There are some great uses for kiwi peels, but one of the best ways to use them is to make your own sweets!

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

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where kiwi 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 kiwi 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 kiwis!

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 kiwis:

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 kiwis. 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 kiwis – 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 kiwis, carbon offsets would be a way to reduce your CO2e emissions all the way down to net zero (or even to become climate positive).

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

Kiwis are a staple of fruit salads and smoothies alike, but all that comes at some cost to people and the environment. Though they are sustainable in a lot of ways, such as not requiring a lot of water to grow and using less harmful fertilizers than other fruits, they still have unsustainable qualities. They also have many unethical qualities, such as human trafficking in Italy and worker endangerment in New Zealand. However, by following some reduction methods, you can help your kiwis to have a significantly more positive impact!

Stay impactful,

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