Is Eating Mangoes Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Mangoes Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

By
Teresa Mersereau

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Mangoes are a delicious and versatile fruit. They can be used in anything from chutneys to salads and delicious desserts. They are popular too, with 43 million tons of them produced globally every year. Healthwise, they’re powerhouses with vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K. In fact, just one cup of mangoes has two-thirds of your daily vitamin C requirement. But the production of mangoes can also have some significantly unethical and unsustainable qualities. So we had to ask: Is eating mangoes ethical and sustainable?

Eating mangoes can be very unethical, depending on where they are from. There is evidence to suggest that the Indian mango industry engages in forced labor and child labor. The Peruvian mango industry, however, has more issues with low wages. 

Eating mangoes is somewhat unsustainable. They engage in several unsustainable practices, such as monoculture farming, as well as regular use of harmful nitrogen fertilizers and styrofoam packaging. However, they have a fairly low carbon footprint and don’t require too much irrigation.

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

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

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

To understand the overall ethics and sustainability of mangoes, 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 mangoes is ethical & sustainable.

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Mangoes Is

The overall ethics & sustainability of mangoes is moderately bad. They engage in some very unethical practices, such as child and forced labor in India, as well as many unsustainable practices, such as monoculture farming, use of harmful nitrogen fertilizers, and styrofoam packaging. 

There are some good qualities to mangoes in terms of sustainability. For example, they have very low pesticide usage, minimal irrigation requirements, and a below-average carbon footprint compared to other fruits. However, for the most part, they engage in more unsustainable practices. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of mangoesMangoes’ social and economic conditions are very poor. This is mainly because of accusations of low and unstable pay in Peru and allegations of child and forced labor in India. 
Seasonality of mangoesMangoes’ seasonality is between May and August, give or take. Outside of this season, they are typically imported from Mexico, Peru, or Ecuador. 
Land requirements for mangoesMangoes have a low land yield of around 5–22 tons per hectare. They also use monoculture farming practices which cause deforestation. Mangoes also have a longer than average growth duration so, they require a lot of resources to grow. 
Water footprint of mangoesMangoes have a moderate water footprint of 26–52 inches per year. Their irrigation requirements mean that they are only minimally unsustainable at this stage. 
Agrochemical usage for mangoesMangoes’ agrochemical use is moderate. Their pesticide use is low, but their fertilizer use is high. In particular, their use of nitrogen fertilizer is very unsustainable. 
Carbon footprint of mangoesMangoes have a carbon footprint of 0.21 kg (0.46 lbs) CO2e per pound of mangoes. The main factors that contribute to this number are the mechanized production process, the usage of non-biodegradable/non-recyclable materials in packaging, and aviation transportation.
Waste generation of mangoesMangoes’ waste generation is fairly high. This is because they use styrofoam packaging, which has a low recycling rate. 

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 mangoes’ ethics & sustainability.

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

Mangoes’ social and economic conditions are very poor. This is mainly because of accusations of low and unstable pay in Peru and allegations of child and forced labor in India. 

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 mango industry fares in relation to these ethical questions.

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

In short, the mango industry’s participation in forced and child labor (in India) as well as low wages and unstable employment (in Peru) mean their working conditions are very unethical. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Mangoes

Mangoes’ seasonality is between May and August, give or take. Outside of this season, they are typically imported from Mexico, Peru, or Ecuador. 

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 mango industry accommodates year-round demand.

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

In short, mangoes’ sustainability is significantly dependent on the time of year you buy them, being much more sustainable in the summer. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Mangoes

Mangoes have a low land yield of around 5–22 tons per hectare. They also use monoculture farming practices which cause deforestation. Mangoes also have a longer than average growth duration so, they require a lot of resources to grow. 

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 mangoes’ land usage affects their sustainability.

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

In short, the fact that mangoes grow in monocultures, have a low land yield, and contribute to deforestation mean they are moderately unsustainable at this stage. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Mangoes

Mangoes have a moderate water footprint of 26–52 inches per year. Their irrigation requirements mean that they are only minimally unsustainable at this stage. 

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 mangoes’ water footprint.

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

In short, mangoes’ light pesticide usage mixed with their need for some irrigation means they are a little unsustainable at this stage. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Mangoes

Mangoes’ agrochemical use is moderate. Their pesticide use is low, but their fertilizer use is high. In particular, their use of nitrogen fertilizer 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 mangoes’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

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

In short, mangoes’ use of nitrogen as a fertilizer is very unsustainable, despite their low pesticide use. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Mangoes

Mangoes have a carbon footprint of 0.21 kg (0.46 lbs) CO2e per pound of mangoes. The main factors that contribute to this number are the mechanized production process, the usage of non-biodegradable/non-recyclable materials in packaging, and aviation transportation.

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 mangoes contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of mangoes?

  • What is the overall carbon footprint of mangoes: The overall carbon footprint of mangoes is 0.21 kg (0.46 lbs) CO2e per pound of mangoes. This means that for every pound of mangoes produced, 0.21kg of carbon is emitted into the atmosphere. This is a below-average carbon footprint amongst fruits. 
  • What are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of mangoes: The main factors that contribute to mangoes’ carbon footprint are aviation transport, styrofoam packaging, and energy-consuming processing. Besides these factors, the growth practices are actually fairly carbon-conscious.
  • Which life-cycle stage of mangoes has the highest carbon footprint: The life cycle stage that contributes the most to mangoes’ carbon footprint is transportation. This is because, despite being grown in North America, they are typically transported by air

In short, mangoes have a fairly small carbon footprint amongst fruits, despite their use of air transport and styrofoam packaging. 

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

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Mangoes

Mangoes’ waste generation is fairly high. This is because they use styrofoam packaging, which has a low recycling rate. 

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 mangoes’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of mangoes?

In short, the use of packaging materials like cardboard and styrofoam, as well as low composting rates, mean mangoes are very unsustainable in terms of waste. 

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

Mangoes have partaken in some farming practices that have harmed the environment and people a lot over the years. These include wage theft, deforestation, and groundwater pollution from nitrogen fertilizer. 

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 mangoes have fared throughout history.

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

  • Has labor been exploited because of mangoes production: The mango industry in various countries has been accused of labor exploitation in the past. One such case was a mango farmer who employed backpackers and allegedly withheld over $36,000 USD worth of wages from them, paying some employees as little as $2 an hour. Cases like these show that there is room for exploitation within the mango industry. 
  • How much land has been lost because of mango production: The mango industry has used a significant amount of land to produce mangoes, which has caused deforestation. However, mangoes can also have a positive impact in this department. Mango trees are frequently cited as a leading tree in the fight against deforestation
  • Which wildlife species have been negatively impacted or displaced because of mango production: Mangoes’ use of harmful fertilizers like nitrogen have been very harmful to animals. Land clearing to create mango farms has also contributed to global deforestation. 
  • Have water sources and soil been contaminated because of mango production: Groundwater sources are greatly affected by any pesticides and fertilizer use, especially nitrogen. Through these chemicals, mango farms have impacted water sources all over the world. 

In short, the mango industry has a long history of unethical and unsustainable behavior, mainly through things like wage theft, as well as their use of nitrogen fertilizer and high land requirements. 

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

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

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

  1. Avoid Indian mangoes: Although Peru does have some unethical practices, India is one of the worst offenders when it comes to unethical treatment of workers. If you want to avoid extreme exploitation like forced and child labor, it is best to avoid buying mangoes from India, where these practices are far more widespread. 
  2. Buy in-season mangoes: If you buy mangoes between the months of May and August, there is a much higher likelihood that they will be coming from within the US, which is much more sustainable. Cut down on transport emissions by buying your mangoes in-season. 
  3. Compost and recycle: Another major contributor to mangoes’ 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 using cardboard waste as roughage.

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

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where mango 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 mango 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 mangoes!

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 mangoes:

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 mangoes. 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 mangoes – 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 mangoes, 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 mangoes.

Final Thoughts

Mangoes have a long way to go before they’re a truly ethical and sustainable fruit. They engage in some truly horrific labor practices in India, including child and forced labor. Furthermore, they use monoculture farming, styrofoam packaging, and harmful nitrogen fertilizer. However, the good news is that you can do your part by supporting ethical mango farms, recycling or avoiding packaging, and composting organic waste, to help make mangoes more ethical and sustainable. You can also support organizations that promote a positive impact on a global scale!

Stay impactful,

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