Is Eating Strawberries Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Strawberries Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:21 Minutes

CLICK TO
SUBSCRIBE

follow follow

Impactful Ninja is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more Learn more .

Affiliate Disclosure

Hey fellow impactful ninja ?

You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.

  • Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.

  • But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.

Why do we add these product links?

First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.

And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

What do these affiliate links mean for you?
  1. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.

  3. And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.

What do these affiliate links mean for us?
  1. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).

  3. And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.

What does this mean for me personally?

You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.

Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.

Stay impactful,

Strawberries are a tasty and versatile summer treat, featured in everything from jams and smoothies to the iconic strawberry shortcake. They are popular too, with the average American consuming around 8 lbs of strawberries every year. In terms of their health benefits, strawberries contain more vitamin C than oranges and significant protein and fiber. However, there can also be many ethics and sustainability issues in the strawberry industry. So we had to ask: Is eating strawberries ethical and sustainable?

Eating strawberries is very unethical. This is mainly because there are reports of child labor in US strawberry farms, as well as low wages and unsafe conditions for workers. However, strawberry workers still make more than the federal minimum wage. 

Eating strawberries is very unsustainable. This is because of their high irrigation requirements, excessive pesticide and nitrogen fertilizer application, use of plastic packaging, and high carbon footprint. However, they have fairly economic land usage compared to other fruits. 

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

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

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

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

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Strawberries Is

The overall ethics & sustainability of strawberries is very low. They use high amounts of irrigation and pesticides, as well as harmful nitrogen fertilizers and plastic packaging. In addition, strawberries have a high carbon footprint, and there are reports of child labor in the US industry. 

There are several things that strawberries do right in terms of ethics and sustainability. For example, they have relatively economic land usage. However, there are many more things that strawberries need to significantly improve upon when it comes to their ethics and sustainability. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of strawberriesStrawberries’ social and economic conditions are very bad. This is mainly because of reports of child labor in the US and Argentina strawberry industries. 
Seasonality of strawberriesStrawberries’ seasonality is between early spring and fall. During this time, they are typically grown in the US and are thus more sustainable than the off-season ones grown in Mexico. 
Land requirements for strawberriesStrawberries’ land requirements are fairly average compared to other fruits. However, they are planted in monocultures so they tend to contribute to habitat loss. 
Water footprint of strawberriesStrawberries have a fairly high water footprint of 50–75 inches of water per year. In addition, most of this water comes from irrigation.
Agrochemical usage for strawberriesStrawberries have high pesticide and fertilizer usage. The environmental destruction caused by pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers means that strawberries are very unsustainable at this stage.
Carbon footprint of strawberriesStrawberries have a fairly high carbon footprint of 0.39kg (0.88lb) of CO2e per pound of strawberries. This is mainly due to their irrigation requirements, high pesticide use, plastic packaging, and refrigeration during transportation from Mexico.
Waste generation of strawberriesStrawberries’ waste generation is high, both because of their plastic packaging and short shelf life. The fact that both of these things have low recycling and composting rates also contributes to their extremely low sustainability at this stage.

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 strawberries’ ethics & sustainability.

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

Strawberries’ social and economic conditions are very bad. This is mainly because of reports of child labor in the US and Argentina strawberry industries.

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 strawberry industry fares in relation to these ethical questions.

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

In short, the strawberry industry’s use of child labor in the US and Argentina, as well as some of their more unsafe conditions for workers, means they are a very unethical fruit. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Strawberries

Strawberries’ seasonality is between early spring and fall. During this time, they are typically grown in the US and are thus more sustainable than the off-season ones grown in Mexico. 

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 strawberry industry accommodates year-round demand.

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

  • When is the natural season for growing and harvesting strawberries: Strawberries have a long season in California, from around early spring to fall. This means that only in the winter will you not be able to find in-season strawberries. 
  • How are strawberries naturally grown in-season: Strawberries grow on small plants. These are typically grown in California, as well as Florida and North Carolina when they are in season. This means that from spring to fall, you can typically find domestically-grown strawberries that will be more sustainable than out-of-season strawberries. 
  • How are strawberries grown out-of-season: Out-of-season, strawberries are mainly imported from Mexico. This means that they need more transportation and are thus less sustainable. 

In short, strawberries are much more sustainable between spring and fall because they don’t need to be imported from Mexico during that time. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Strawberries

Strawberries’ land requirements are fairly average compared to other fruits. However, they are planted in monocultures so they tend to contribute to habitat loss. 

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 strawberries’ land usage affects their sustainability.

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

In short, strawberries’ use of monoculture farming and contribution to deforestation mean that they are fairly unsustainable at this stage. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Strawberries

Strawberries have a fairly high water footprint of 50–75 inches of water per year. In addition, most of this water comes from 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 strawberries’ water footprint.

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

In short, strawberries’ intense irrigation requirements and high pesticide/fertilizer use mean their water footprint is significant.

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Strawberries

Strawberries have high pesticide and fertilizer usage. The environmental destruction caused by pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers means that strawberries are very unsustainable 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 strawberries’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

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

In short, strawberries’ incredibly high pesticide use and their need for nitrogen fertilizer means their sustainability is very low at this stage.

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Strawberries

Strawberries have a fairly high carbon footprint of 0.39kg (0.88lb) of CO2e per pound of strawberries. This is mainly due to their irrigation requirements, high pesticide use, plastic packaging, and refrigeration during transportation from Mexico. 

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 strawberries contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of strawberries?

In short, the carbon footprint of strawberries is high, mainly due to high irrigation and pesticide requirements, plastic packaging, and refrigeration needs during transportation. 

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

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Strawberries

Strawberries’ waste generation is high, both because of their plastic packaging and short shelf life. The fact that both of these things have low recycling and composting rates also contributes to their extremely low sustainability at this stage. 

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 strawberries’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of strawberries?

In short, strawberries’ use of plastic packaging, as well as their short shelf life mean they are very unsustainable at this stage.

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

Strawberries have partaken in some unethical and unsustainable farming practices over the years. These include destruction of habitats, compromising worker safety, use of monoculture farming, and pollution from nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides. 

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 strawberries have fared throughout history.

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

In short, strawberries don’t have the best track record when it comes to historical ethical and sustainability practices. Their reports of worker endangerment, threats to protected wetlands, contribution to deforestation, and pollution of soil and water have all been harmful to the environment. 

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

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

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

  1. Buy in-season strawberries: When strawberries are bought in the winter, it is likely that they were imported from Mexico, which takes more fuel. Thus, if you want to buy your strawberries more sustainably, you should make sure you buy them in the spring to fall. 
  2. Buy strawberries without plastic packaging: Plastic packaging is one of the most unsustainable components of the strawberry industry. A good way to reduce this is by buying strawberries from local farmer’s markets or low-waste supermarkets, which tend to use less packaging.
  3. Compost and recycle: If you do buy strawberries with packaging, then make sure that you dispose of it properly. Recycling all plastic packaging and composting all food waste will help you to make strawberries’ waste more sustainable. If you don’t have a city-wide composting service, consider creating your own in your backyard!

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

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where strawberry 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 strawberry 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 strawberries!

“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 strawberries:

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 strawberries. 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 strawberries – 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 strawberries, 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 strawberries.

Final Thoughts

Strawberries might be a delicious and common fruit, but they are also big offenders when it comes to ethics and sustainability. They have reports of child labor in the US, they use a lot of pesticides, are planted in monocultures, and use plastic packaging, to name a few factors. But, luckily, there are efforts being made to improve strawberry agriculture’s ethics and sustainability. You as the consumer can also take part in composting, recycling, and other waste reduction initiatives to help make a more positive impact!

Stay impactful,

Illustration of a signature for Teresa

Sources

Photo of author
Did you like this article?

Get the 5-minute newsletter that makes reading impactful news enjoyable—packed with actionable insights to make a positive impact in your daily life.

Three Related Posts

One Unrelated Post