Is Eating Pears Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Pears Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:22 Minutes

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In an average year, over 25,000 tons of pears are consumed globally, making them an immensely popular fruit. They can be used in anything from elegant French pastries (Tarte Bourdaloue, anyone?) to delicious juices. But there are also many practices that can be unethical or unsustainable about the pear industry. So we had to ask: Is eating pears ethical and sustainable?

Eating pears is fairly unethical. Although some seasonal workers can make good wages, there have been reports of child labor within the industry, as well as the exploitation of migrant workers in general. 

Eating pears is moderately unsustainable. This is mainly because the industry uses nitrogen fertilizer, styrofoam packaging, monoculture farming methods, and significant pesticides. However, pears trees require little irrigation and sequester carbon well. 

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

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

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

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

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Pears Is

The overall ethics and sustainability of pears is moderately negative. The main factors that contribute to this are reports of child labor in the US, monoculture farming methods, the use of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer, and styrofoam packaging. 

There are some positive aspects of pear production. For example, pear trees sequester carbon very well and require little to no irrigation. The industry also pays high wages to some seasonal workers. However, pear farming still causes a lot of damage in many other areas. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of pearsPears’ social and economic conditions are very bad. This is because there have been reports of child labor within the US pear industry. However, wages for many pear workers are fairly decent compared to many other types of fruit farms.
Seasonality of pearsPears’ seasonality is between September and January. Both in-season and out-of-season, they are predominantly grown in the US, making them fairly sustainable all year round. 
Land requirements for pearsPears’ land requirements are fairly low. However, the industry uses harmful monoculture farming methods and contributes to erosion. This means that they are moderately unsustainable at this stage. 
Water footprint of pearsPears have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches per year. However, because of where they grow, they don’t require irrigation.
Agrochemical usage for pearsPears’ agrochemical usage is very high. This is worsened by the industries’ use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, which have particularly damaging qualities.
Carbon footprint of pearsPears have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.23kg (0.52 lbs) of CO2e per pound of pears. This is mainly due to their high pesticide use, mechanized processing, intensive packaging needs, and poor recycling rates. Their carbon footprint is average compared to other fruits. 
Waste generation of pearsPears’ waste generation is high. The very low recycling rates of styrofoam and low composting rates of food waste mean pears’ waste generation is very unsustainable.

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 pears’ ethics & sustainability.

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

Pears’ social and economic conditions are very bad. This is because there have been reports of child labor within the US pear industry. However, wages for many pear workers are fairly decent compared to many other types of fruit farms.

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 pear industry fares in relation to these ethical questions.

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

  • Are farmers paid fair wages to grow pears: Pear pickers are typically paid by the pound, earning a flat rate for every piece of fruit they pick. This works out to be a decent hourly wage, but often it also incentivizes workers to cut corners to make more money per hour, which can present a safety concern. 
  • How safe are the working conditions to grow pears: Harvesting fruit from trees presents several workplace hazards. One of the most prominent ones is falling from ladders, especially when trying to reach faraway fruit. Incentivization to work faster increases this risk. 
  • Are there reports of child or forced labor to grow pears: There have been some reports of children working on pear farms within the US. Not only is child labor inherently unethical, but it also means that there is an increased risk of workplace injury, especially on ladders, which are common in the pear industry. 
  • What is the wider economic impact on the communities that grow pears: Many pear pickers within the US are migrant workers, due to staff shortages. Though these workers can make good money while they are employed (up to $200 per day), they also experience considerable instability due to the seasonal nature of the work. Migrant workers also face unique challenges, including substandard conditions, discrimination, and unstable visa status

In short, the reports of child labor mean that the pear industry in the US is very unethical. There are also health risks for workers and a prevalence of exploitation when it comes to migrant workers.

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Pears

Pears’ seasonality is between September and January. Both in-season and out-of-season, they are predominantly grown in the US, making them fairly sustainable all year round. 

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 pear industry accommodates year-round demand.

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

  • When is the natural season for growing and harvesting pears: Pears are in season in the fall/winter, from around September to January. This means that pears will be much more widely available in US supermarkets, and more likely to be locally-grown, during this time. 
  • How are pears naturally grown in-season: In-season pears are typically grown on the west coast of the US, particularly California, Washington, and Oregon. This means that if you are buying your pears in-season, they will likely come from one of these states. 
  • How are pears grown out-of-season: Though pears are in peak season between September and January, they are still available in the US outside of this season. Thus, even if you are buying out-of-season pears, they will still be fairly sustainable. 

In short, pears’ seasonality doesn’t have a major impact on their sustainability, since they can be grown in the US year-round. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Pears

Pears’ land requirements are fairly low. However, the industry uses harmful monoculture farming methods and contributes to erosion. This means that they are moderately unsustainable at this stage. 

Illustration of global land use for food production
Our World in Data: Global land use for food production

The growth stage has a major impact on fruits’ sustainability. The amount of land used, especially in relation to its expansion, the method with which they are grown, and their effect on surrounding land and wildlife are all important factors. In this section, we will look at the ways in which pears’ land usage affects their sustainability.

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

  • How does the growing of pears affect soil fertility and erosion: Pear and other fruit trees can be prone to soil erosion, which is why many soil preservation methods have been undertaken by pear farmers. Soil erosion can severely damage the lands that are farmed on, and thus pears are very unsustainable at this stage. 
  • How does the pear industry affect the loss of habitable land: The US produces roughly 700,000 tons of pears every year, which takes up roughly 14,000 hectares of land. This is a significant amount of land on the West Coast, and so pears’ land use is moderately unsustainable. 
  • How does the pear industry affect wildlife and biodiversity: Monocultures are very damaging to biodiversity. They limit the growth of many important soil microbes and deplete pollinators of the diverse nutrients they need to thrive. This disrupts the whole ecosystem and so pears can cause a lot of environmental harm.

In short, pears’ contribution to soil erosion and their use of monoculture farming means that they are very unsustainable at this stage. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Pears

Pears have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches per year. However, because of where they grow, they don’t require irrigation.

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 pears’ water footprint.

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

In short, pears’ lack of irrigation requirements means they don’t put a strain on water resources. However, their significant use of pesticides can be harmful to water sources.

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Pears

Pears’ agrochemical usage is very high. This is worsened by the industries’ use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, which have particularly damaging qualities.

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 pears’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

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

In short, pears’ use of both significant pesticides, as well as harmful fertilizers like nitrogen and phosphorus means that they are very unsustainable at this stage. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Pears

Pears have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.23kg (0.52 lbs) of CO2e per pound of pears. This is mainly due to their high pesticide use, mechanized processing, intensive packaging needs, and poor recycling rates. Their carbon footprint is average compared to other fruits. 

Illustration of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production
Our World in Data: Global greenhouse gas emissions from food production

Carbon footprint is one aspect of the overall sustainability of a fruit. It essentially measures how much carbon or other greenhouse gasses the production of fruits emits into the atmosphere. Emissions from product manufacturing, irrigation, transportation fuel, and landfills all add up to create the overall carbon footprint of a fruit. Let’s see how the carbon footprint of pears contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of pears?

  • What is the overall carbon footprint of pears: The overall carbon footprint of pears is 0.23kg (0.52 lbs) of CO2e per pound of pears. This means that for every pound of pears produced, 0.23kg of carbon is released into the atmosphere. This is an average carbon footprint among fruits. 
  • What are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of pears: The main factors that contribute to pears’ carbon footprint are pesticide usage, styrofoam packaging, mechanized processing, and refrigerated transport
  • Which life-cycle stage of pears has the highest carbon footprint: The portion of pears’ life cycle with the highest carbon footprint is processing and packaging. This is because this stage involves both mechanization and manufacturing of styrofoam packaging. 

In short, though pears’ carbon footprint is fairly average, there are still many parts of their manufacturing process that emit a lot of carbon. 

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

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Pears

Pears’ waste generation is high. The very low recycling rates of styrofoam and low composting rates of food waste mean pears’ waste generation is very unsustainable.

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 pears’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of pears?

In short, pears’ use of styrofoam packaging, as well as their low composting rates mean that this stage is very unsustainable. 

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

The pear industry has historically caused a moderate amount of environmental damage. This is mainly due to the fact that they have contributed heavily to deforestation and used a significant amount of pesticides, which damage people and the planet. 

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 pears have fared throughout history.

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

In short, pears’ historical use of pesticides, as well as their contribution to deforestation in the Pacific Northwest means they have caused significant damage to people and environments over the years.

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

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

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

  1. Purchase organic pears: One of the most unsustainable aspects of pears is their excessive pesticide use. Organic farms generally avoid high amounts of chemical pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers and so they are good to support if you want to reduce your pesticide and fertilizer impact. Plus, organic farms pose fewer dangers to workers, since they won’t be exposed to as many pesticides. Thus, buying organic pears makes your consumption more ethical and sustainable. 
  2. Dispose of organic and packaging waste responsibly: Much of the waste produced by pears ends up in landfills. The good news is that you have significant control over this as the consumer by trying to compost any organic waste that you can. If your city doesn’t have a composting system, you can try creating your own! Likewise, make sure to recycle any plastic and attempt to recycle styrofoam, if possible. Taking these measures will mean that far less of your pear waste will end up in landfills, mitigating much of the damage that landfills can cause. 
  3. Support stricter child labor legislation: Since reports of child labor in the US pear industry have been found, it’s imperative that you advocate for stricter enforcement of these laws. Child labor is on the rise in the US since certain laws protecting children have been repealed. Participating in the democratic process and raising awareness about the dangers of child labor can help to reduce the amount of children being forced into dangerous labor situations in the US. 

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

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where pear 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 improve the ethics and sustainability of your personal pears 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 pears!

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 pears:

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 pears. 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 pears – 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 pears, 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 pears.

Final Thoughts

Pears are certainly not the most ethical or sustainable fruit. Many of their agricultural practices are very unethical, such as their reports of child labor within the US, and very unsustainable, such as their use of styrofoam packaging and excessive pesticide use. However, if you take steps to reduce these things, by shopping for organic pears or disposing of packaging responsibly, you can mitigate your impact. Supporting environmental organizations and anti-child labor politicians can be another way to have a positive impact on the pear industry!

Stay impactful,

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