Is Eating Papayas Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Papayas Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

By
Teresa Mersereau

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Papayas are a soft, sweet fruit native to Mexico. Today, they are grown everywhere from Florida to Hawaii. Papayas are also highly versatile. For example, they are commonly used in salads, desserts, and ice creams. But papayas can also have many unethical and unsustainable properties in their production process. So we had to ask: Is eating papayas ethical and sustainable?

Eating papayas is somewhat unethical. Dangerous chemical exposure has been reported in the Jamaican and Australian papaya industry, as well as incidents of child labor in the Ivory Coast. However, there aren’t many significant reports of these things in Mexico, where most US papayas come from. 

Eating papayas is fairly unsustainable. They have been associated with many unsustainable practices, such as Amazon deforestation, use of harmful nitrogen fertilizer, and styrofoam packaging. However, they don’t use high amounts of pesticides and have an economical land yield.

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

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

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

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

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Papayas Is

The overall ethics & sustainability of papayas is fairly low. The papaya industry participates in unethical practices such as chemical hazards for workers and unsustainable practices such as deforestation, nitrogen fertilizers, and styrofoam packaging. 

Papayas do have some good qualities when it comes to ethics and sustainability. For example, they have fairly economical land usage and don’t use a significant amount of pesticides. However, the rest of their production process is still fairly unsustainable. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of papayasPapayas’ social and economic conditions are fairly bad. The industry has engaged in some harmful labor practices like stagnating wages, exposure to chemicals, and child labor (in the Ivory Coast). 
Seasonality of papayasPapayas’ seasonality is somewhat the same all year round, meaning that they have to be imported from Mexico all year. 
Land requirements for papayasPapayas’ land requirements are fairly low. However, their use of monoculture farming and involvement with deforestation in the Amazon is very unsustainable. 
Water footprint of papayasPapayas’ water requirements are high at 50–100 inches of water per year. Because of where they grow in Mexico, they need a significant amount of irrigation to satisfy this requirement. 
Agrochemical usage for papayasPapayas’ agrochemical use is moderate. Their pesticide use may be low, but their use of nitrogen fertilizer is particularly unsustainable.
Carbon footprint of papayasPapayas have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.3kg (0.67lb) of CO2e per pound of papayas. This is mainly because of their refrigerated shipping from Mexico, use of styrofoam packaging, high irrigation requirements, and low composting rates. 
Waste generation of papayasPapayas’ waste generation is very high. This is mostly because they use styrofoam packaging and have 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 papayas’ ethics & sustainability.

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

Papayas’ social and economic conditions are fairly bad. The industry has engaged in some harmful labor practices like stagnating wages, exposure to chemicals, and child labor (in the Ivory Coast). 

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 papaya industry fares in relation to these ethical questions.

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

In short, the papaya industry’s participation in some seriously unethical practices, such as child labor (in the Ivory Coast), low wages, and inadequate safety precautions for workers means that they are a fairly unethical fruit. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Papayas

Papayas’ seasonality is somewhat the same year round, meaning that they have to be imported from Mexico all year. 

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 papaya industry accommodates year-round demand.

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

  • When is the natural season for growing and harvesting papayas: Indian papayas are in season between August and November. However, most American-consumed papayas are grown in Mexico, where papayas are in season year-round
  • How are papayas naturally grown in-season: Papayas grow on trees and can start producing fruit in the first year of growth, as early as 7 months after planting. In Mexico, there is no real season for papayas, and so they need to be exported to the US year-round. This means that they are somewhat unsustainable all year. 
  • How are papayas grown out-of-season: Papayas in Mexico don’t have an off-season. They are grown all year round, so there is no difference between on-season and off-season growth processes in terms of sustainability.

In short, papayas’ seasonality does not greatly affect their sustainability level in the US, remaining moderately unsustainable year-round because of imports. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Papayas

Papayas’ land requirements are fairly low. However, their use of monoculture farming and involvement with deforestation in the Amazon is very unsustainable. 

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 papayas’ land usage affects their sustainability.

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

In short, the papaya industry engages in some fairly unsustainable activities, such as their contribution to Amazon deforestation. However, their land use is relatively low. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Papayas

Papayas’ water requirements are high at 50–100 inches of water per year. Because of where they grow in Mexico, they need a significant amount of irrigation to satisfy this requirement. 

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 papayas’ water footprint.

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

In short, papayas’ high use of irrigation means their water sustainability is fairly low, even though they don’t use a high amount of pesticides. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Papayas

Papayas’ agrochemical use is moderate. Their pesticide use may be low, but their use of nitrogen fertilizer is particularly 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 papayas’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

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

In short, the fact that papayas are fertilized with nitrogen is very unsustainable, despite the fact that their pesticide usage is very low.

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Papayas

Papayas have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.3kg (0.67lb) of CO2e per pound of papayas. This is mainly because of their refrigerated shipping from Mexico, use of styrofoam packaging, high irrigation requirements, 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 papayas contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of papayas?

  • What is the overall carbon footprint of papayas: The overall carbon footprint of papayas is 0.3kg (0.67lb) of CO2e per pound of papayas. This means that for every pound of papayas produced, 0.3kg of carbon (or carbon-equivalent gasses) is released into the atmosphere. This is a fairly average carbon footprint compared to other fruits. 
  • What are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of papayas: The main factors that contribute to papayas’ carbon footprint are the use of styrofoam packaging, international refrigerated shipping, and their high irrigation needs
  • Which life-cycle stage of papayas has the highest carbon footprint: The stage that contributes the most to papayas’ carbon footprint is waste management. This is mainly because they use styrofoam packaging, which is notoriously hard to recycle. They also have low composting rates for their food waste.

In short, papayas’ use of refrigerated shipping, styrofoam packaging, and excessive irrigation all combine to create a significant carbon footprint for papayas. 

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

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Papayas

Papayas’ waste generation is very high. This is mostly because they use styrofoam packaging and have 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 papayas’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of papayas?

In short, papayas’ use of styrofoam in their packaging, paired with their low composting rates, are very unsustainable. 

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

The papaya industry has historically contributed to unethical and unsustainable practices, such as chemical exposure, deforestation, and groundwater pollution. 

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 papayas have fared throughout history.

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

In short, papaya agriculture has historically caused serious harm to workers and the environment. This is mainly due to chemical handling by workers, as well as Amazon deforestation and their use of nitrogen fertilizer. 

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

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

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

  1. Avoid papayas from the Ivory Coast: The Ivory Coast has been identified as a papaya exporter that uses child labor. If you want to lower the likelihood that your papayas are being farmed by children forced into labor, then boycotting the Ivory Coast might help. 
  2. Buy organic papayas: Though papayas have lower pesticide rates, their use of nitrogen fertilizer is one of the leading contributors to their negative environmental impact. Organic farms generally avoid nitrogen fertilizers and so they are good to support if you want to reduce your fertilizer impact. Plus, dangerous chemicals are one of the main hazards of papaya farming for workers. So by supporting organic papaya farming, you are both reducing harm to the ecosystem, as well as potential harm to workers. 
  3. Avoid packaging: Considering the low recycling rates of styrofoam, packaging is one of the most unsustainable aspects of papayas. If you try to avoid packaging as much as possible, you will not only be reducing the pollution involved in creating the packaging, but also the pollution associated with landfill waste. 

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

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where papaya 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 papaya 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 papayas!

“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 papayas:

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 papayas. 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 papayas – 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 papayas, 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 papayas.

Final Thoughts

Papayas partake in some seriously unsustainable and unethical practices. Between child labor in the Ivory Coast and chemical hazards to workers in Australia, there are some major ethical problems in the industry. On the sustainability side, they have major issues with deforestation and styrofoam packaging pollution. But the good news is that you can engage in sustainable and ethical papaya consumption to help make your purchases have a positive impact and support ethical and sustainable organizations to create a more widespread positive impact around the world. 

Stay impactful,

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