Is Eating Pineapples Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Pineapples Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:22 Minutes

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Pineapples are a booming industry, with 30 million tons produced every single year. They’re nutritious too, as a cancer-fighting fruit loaded with antioxidants and Vitamin C. Furthermore, this fruit has been a historical symbol of hospitality and welcome, especially in South America. But the production of pineapples can also have some serious impacts on the resources required and workers involved. So, we had to ask: Is eating pineapples ethical and sustainable?

Eating pineapples can be fairly unethical. There are several findings that indicate the pineapple industry has engaged in child labor, as well as very low wages and unsafe chemical practices. However, their wages are above the national average in Costa Rica, despite hours being very high. 

Pineapples are a fairly unsustainable fruit. They contribute to rainforest destruction, use monoculture farming, high amounts of pesticides, and plastic packaging. However, they also have a low carbon footprint and don’t require a significant amount of irrigation. 

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

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

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

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

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Pineapples Is

The overall ethics & sustainability of pineapples is fairly low. They engage in several unethical practices, such as poverty wages and child labor, and they also participate in unsustainable practices like rainforest destruction and contribute significantly to landfills. 

There are some positive qualities to pineapples’ sustainability. For example, they have a very low carbon footprint and don’t need a significant amount of irrigation. However, they still engage in a significant number of unsustainable practices. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of pineapplesPineapples’ social and economic conditions are seriously bad. In many countries, pineapple workers don’t make anywhere near a living wage, and are exposed to chemical dangers. On top of this, there have been significant child labor reports. 
Seasonality of pineapplesPineapples aren’t widely produced in the US and so are imported year-round from Costa Rica, where they are always in season. Thus, their seasonality means they are relatively unsustainable year-round due to the energy required through transportation.
Land requirements for pineapplesPineapples’ land requirements are very low. But, they use harmful monoculture growth techniques which can harm local wildlife due to the lack of crop diversity.
Water footprint of pineapplesPineapples have a moderate water footprint of 50 inches per year. They are grown in Costa Rica, which has enough rainfall to water them, and so they don’t need irrigation. However, their pesticide usage means that excess water is needed to clean up harmful residue.
Agrochemical usage for pineapplesPineapples use a significant amount of pesticides and harmful fertilizers, such as nitrogen. This is a very unsustainable practice. 
Carbon footprint of pineapplesPineapples have a very low carbon footprint of 0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapples. Most of these emissions come from their high pesticide use, transportation emissions (e.g., to get them from Costa Rica to the US), and their low composting rates.
Waste generation of pineapplesPineapples’ waste generation is high. This is mainly because they use plastic packaging and their organic waste isn’t often composted. 

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 pineapples’ ethics & sustainability.

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

Pineapples’ social and economic conditions are seriously bad. In many countries, pineapple workers don’t make anywhere near a living wage, and are exposed to chemical dangers. On top of this, there have been significant child labor reports. 

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 pineapple industry fares in relation to these ethical questions. 

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

In short, the pineapple industry’s use of horrific practices like child labor and poverty wages means that they are a very unethical fruit in terms of their production. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Pineapples

Pineapples’ seasonality is a minor contributor to their sustainability. This is because they are imported year-round from Costa Rica, where they are always in season. 

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 pineapple industry accommodates year-round demand.

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

In short, the fact that pineapples are imported from Costa Rica year-round means that they are relatively unsustainable. However, different seasons don’t affect their sustainability very much. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Pineapples

Pineapples’ land requirements are very low. But, they use monoculture growth techniques which are 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 pineapples’ land usage affects their sustainability.

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

In short, pineapples are very unsustainable in their land practices. This is primarily because they use monoculture farming and contribute to soil erosion. However, they have a much higher yield than most other fruits.

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Pineapples

Pineapples have a moderate water footprint of 50 inches per year. Because of where they grow, they don’t need irrigation. However, their pesticide usage means that excess water is needed to clean up harmful residue.

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 pineapples’ water footprint.

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

In short, pineapples’ lack of irrigation requirements means that they are fairly sustainable in the water department. However, their high pesticide use causes significant harm to surrounding wildlife and waterways.

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Pineapples

Pineapples use a significant amount of harmful pesticides and fertilizers. This is a very unsustainable practice. 

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 pineapples’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

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

In short, pineapples’ use of harmful pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer is very unsustainable, mainly because they cause considerable pollution and harm to wildlife. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Pineapples

Pineapples have a very low carbon footprint of 0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapples. Most of these emissions come from their high pesticide use, transportation emissions (e.g., to get them from Costa Rica to the US), and their 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 pineapples contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of pineapples?

In short, pineapples’ very low carbon footprint means that it has a very minimal impact on their sustainability. However, several of their practices, such as their need for continuous refrigeration, are unsustainable from a carbon perspective. 

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

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Pineapples

Pineapples’ waste generation is high. This is mainly because they use plastic packaging and their organic waste isn’t often composted.

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 pineapples’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of pineapples?

In short, pineapples’ use of plastic packaging means that they are fairly unsustainable at this stage, considering plastic packaging contributes significantly to landfills and pollution. 

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

Pineapples have partaken in some farming practices that have harmed the environment substantially over the years. These include destruction to Costa Rican rainforests and wetlands, chemical runoffs getting into waterways, and wildlife 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 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 pineapples have fared throughout history.

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

In short, the pineapple industry’s encroachment on the Costa Rican rainforest, as well as rivers and wildlife in general, means their historical track record has been very unsustainable. 

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

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

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

  1. Buy ethically-sourced pineapples: The widespread ethical concerns in the pineapple industry, such as child labor and low wages means that buying ethically-sourced pineapples is key. You can look for certain labels that indicate they are fair trade or do some research into farms that prioritize ethical treatment of workers. 
  2. Buy organic pineapples: Pesticide usage is one of the most unsustainable aspects of the pineapple growing process. Organic farms, however, generally avoid high amounts of chemical pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers and so they are good to support if you want to reduce the amount of pesticides involved in your food. 
  3. Compost your pineapple waste: The amount of waste generated by pineapples, especially their packaging, is very unsustainable. You can combat this by making sure that you compost all your pineapple waste. If your city doesn’t have a municipal composting service then you can make one yourself

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

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where pineapple 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 pineapple 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 pineapples!

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 pineapples:

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 pineapples. 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 pineapples – 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 pineapples, 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 pineapples.

Final Thoughts

Pineapples may have a low carbon footprint, but when it comes to ethics and sustainability, they have a lot of issues. They have been connected to several issues with labor, including low wages and child labor, and engage in many unsustainable practices, such as rainforest destruction, pesticide usage, and plastic packaging. However, the good news is that you can consume pineapples in ways that reduce some of these consequences and support organizations that are fighting to improve the conditions of pineapple workers and unsustainable practices!

Stay impactful,

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