The Environmental Impact of Apricots: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Apricots: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:18 Minutes

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Apricots are a booming American industry, with more than 40,000 tons produced each year. They also happen to be a delicious treat, popular in jams or as a dried fruit. But there are also a lot of components to the apricot industry that can have a damaging effect on the environment. So, we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of apricots?

Apricots have a moderately negative environmental impact. This is mainly because they use a high amount of pesticides and styrofoam packaging. However, they don’t require a lot of irrigation or use harmful fertilizers like nitrogen.

In this article, we will examine the environmental impact of apricots from several different angles. We will go through the life-cycle of apricots, detailing their impact on the environment from growth to distribution to your plate to waste management. We will then compare the environmental impact of apricots to that of other fruits. And, finally, we’ll share some tips with you on how you can reduce your own environmental impact and offset your own carbon emissions—both for your personal life and apricot-related.

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Apricots

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is one of the ways we measure the potential environmental effects of our actions, like the consumption of apricots. It is a holistic assessment based on the environmental changes associated with our consumption. Those are changes in our environment that can have adverse effects on the air, land, water, fish, and wildlife or the inhabitants of the ecosystem.

“Environmental Impact: the effect that the activities of people and businesses have on the environment”

Cambridge Dictionary

Basically, all goods and services you buy—including apricots—leave an impact on our environment. When it comes to food in general, and apricots specifically, the following are key factors:

To understand the overall environmental impact of apricots, we must assess each of their key factors. This Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool originally developed to identify the environmental impacts of a project prior to decision-making and also helps us to evaluate the environmental impacts of apricots, from farm to table.

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Apricots

The overall environmental impact of apricots is moderately negative. The main factors that contribute to this are high pesticide usage, some irrigation, and styrofoam packaging. Their environmental impact is average among fruits.

Apricots do a lot of things right. They don’t exclusively use monoculture farming, nor do they use some of the more harmful fertilizers, and their irrigation needs are small. However, they still do have some qualities that can be harmful to the environment. 

So, let’s have a look at the environmental impact of each key factor of apricots!

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for apricotsApricots’ land requirements are moderate. Though they don’t use widespread monoculture farming, they do use a lot of pesticides, which negatively impacts wildlife. Therefore, their environmental impact is moderately negative at this stage. 
Water footprint of apricotsApricots have a low water requirement of 25–30 inches of water per year. Because of where they are grown, they need a small amount of irrigation, which means their environmental impact is moderately negative at this stage. 
Agrochemical usage for apricotsApricots’ agrochemical usage is moderate. They use a lot of pesticides, but the types of pesticides they use are minimally harmful. 
Carbon footprint of apricotsApricots have a low carbon footprint of 0.16kg (0.36lb) of CO2e per pound of apricots. This is mainly because of their high pesticide use, as well as refrigerated trucking, mechanized harvesting, and styrofoam packaging. 
Waste generation of apricotsApricots’ waste generation is extremely high. This is mainly because they use styrofoam packaging, which is very damaging to the environment during every stage of its life cycle. 

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 apricots’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Apricots

Apricots’ land requirements are moderate. Though they don’t use widespread monoculture farming, they do use a lot of pesticides, which negatively impacts wildlife. Therefore, their environmental impact is moderately negative at this stage. 

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

Growing apricots has a lot of variables that contribute to their environmental impact. The amount of land they use, the way in which they grow, and the amount of time they take to grow will all contribute to their environmental impact.

How do the land requirements of apricots impact their environmental footprint?

In short, apricots’ use of polyculture farming, but significant pesticides means their impact is a bit of a mixed bag, coming in at only moderately negative. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Apricots

Apricots have a low water requirement of 25–30 inches of water per year. Because of where they are grown, they need a small amount of irrigation, which means their environmental impact is moderately negative at this stage. 

Water usage is one of the most important factors in the environmental impact of a fruit. The amount of water used, as well as the way they affect the water sources around them, are all major contributing factors. Here, we will look at these different angles of apricots’ water impact.

How does the water footprint of apricots impact their environmental footprint?

In short, apricot farms’ high use of pesticides and moderate use of irrigation means that their water footprint is moderately negative. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Apricots

Apricots’ agrochemical usage is moderate. They use a lot of pesticides, but the types of pesticides they use are minimally harmful. 

Pesticides and fertilizers are agrochemicals that can have a significant impact on the environment. They both require resources to create as well as have effects on the life around them. Here, we will look at how apricots’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact.

How does the agrochemical usage of apricots impact their environmental footprint?

In short, apricots’ high pesticide usage is very harmful to the environment, but because they use the less-harmful potassium fertilizer, their environmental impact is only moderately negative at this stage. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Apricots

Apricots have a low carbon footprint of 0.16kg (0.36lb) of CO2e per pound of apricots. This is mainly because of their high pesticide use, as well as refrigerated trucking, mechanized harvesting, and styrofoam packaging. 

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 environmental impact of a fruit. It essentially measures how much carbon or other greenhouse gasses the production of strawberries 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 apricots breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact.

How does the carbon footprint of apricots impact their environmental footprint?

  • What is the overall carbon footprint of apricots: The overall carbon footprint of apricots is low at 0.16kg (0.36lb) of CO2e per pound of apricots. That means that for every pound of apricots produced, 0.16kg of carbon is released into the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of driving a car for just under half a mile. Apricots have a low carbon footprint compared to other fruits. 
  • What are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of apricots: The main factors that contribute to apricots’ carbon footprint are pesticide use, styrofoam packaging, and refrigerated transportation
  • Which life-cycle stage of apricots has the highest carbon footprint: The stage that contributes the most to apricots’ carbon footprint is harvesting, processing, and packaging. The energy required to power the harvesting machines and their heavy use of packaging are the main reasons for this stage being so high.

In short, though apricots may have a smaller carbon footprint compared to other fruits, they still emit a significant amount of carbon due to their packaging and transport methods. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Apricots

Apricots’ waste generation is extremely high. This is mainly because they use styrofoam packaging, which is very damaging to the environment during every stage of its life cycle. 

When fruit waste, in the form of either packaging or organic materials, is disposed of, it can have a major impact on the environment. 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. In this section, we will look at how apricots’ waste affects the environment.

How does the waste generation of apricots impact their environmental footprint?

In short, the extremely low recycling rates of styrofoam and low composting rates of food waste mean that apricots’ environmental impact is extremely negative at this stage. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Apricot Industry

The apricot industry has historically been involved in both positive environmental impacts, such as land revitalization, and negative environmental impacts, such as pesticide pollution. 

All fruits have had a complex journey 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 racked up some serious environmental damage along the way. Whether it’s deforestation to meet demand, water pollution, or disruption of wildlife, most fruits have left a path of destruction. Let’s see how apricots have fared throughout history. 

What have been the key environmental issues of the apricot industry?

  • How much land has been lost because of apricot production: Apricots have actually historically been used to greenify environments. In China, for example, apricot trees were used in a project to prevent land degradation. Therefore, apricots have at times had a positive impact on the environment. 
  • Which wildlife species have been negatively impacted or displaced because of apricot production: The pesticides used by apricot farmers have caused a lot of problems for wildlife over the years. They stop many natural processes of the ecosystem and so a significant amount of wildlife loss can be attributed to apricots’ pesticide usage. In this category, apricots have had a historically negative environmental impact. 
  • Have water sources and soil been contaminated because of apricot production: Pesticides have caused a lot of damage to water sources over the years. As of 2021, around 10% of surface water and 2% of groundwater contained a significant amount of pesticides. The damage this has caused to marine life and the environment, in general, has been very high. 

In short, apricots don’t have too damaging a history, though their use of pesticides has likely caused a significant amount of damage over the years. 

What Is the Overall Environmental Impact of Food and Agriculture

Food production in general has a high environmental impact. Everything from the amount of land used to the energy involved in irrigation to its effect on plant and animal biodiversity can be a factor in this. In the chart below, you can see how food production is one of the biggest influences on these areas of the environment. 

Illustration of the environmental impacts of food and agriculture
Our World in Data: The environmental impacts of food and agriculture

Agriculture alone accounts for over a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, while using half of the world’s habitable land and 70% of the global freshwater withdrawals. Agriculture also causes 78% of the global ocean and freshwater pollution

Livestock accounts for the vast majority of non-human mammal and bird biomass. Mammal livestock outweighs wild mammals by a factor of 15-to-1, and poultry livestock outweighs wild birds by a factor of more than 3-to-1.

These statistics highlight the need for sustainable and responsible practices in food production to reduce its impact on the environment. And the need for us to shift toward more environmentally-friendly foods.

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

There are a few things you can do to mitigate some of the negative environmental effects of consuming apricots, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and apricot-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 Reduce Your Environmental Impact When Shopping for Apricots

In this section, we give you a short list of ways you can reduce the negative environmental effects of oranges, based on those parts of the life-cycle of apricots that would otherwise most negatively impact the environment:

  1. Choose low packaging apricots: Packaging, especially that made of styrofoam, is one of the biggest contributors to apricots’ negative environmental impact. If you want to reduce the damage caused by your apricot consumption, you should choose apricots that don’t come with packaging. This will help you to cut down on the damage that styrofoam causes to the environment. 
  2. Buy organic apricots: Pesticides are another big contributor to apricots’ carbon footprint. 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. 
  3. Buy California apricots: Though most apricots sold in the US will be from California, there may still be some from the Middle East. These will have a somewhat higher carbon footprint since they will have to be shipped or flown to the US. Therefore, you should make sure that the apricots you are buying are in fact domestic products.

Following some of these methods can really help you to cut down on your environmental impact of eating apricots. 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 Alleviate Your Environmental Impact

While apricots can cause a wide range of environmental damage, there are also some organizations that help you reduce parts of your impact 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 apricot agriculture.

In the table below are some of the best environmental charities that work in the areas where apricot production has affected the environment—and beyond:

Overall environmental impactBest charities that fight to protect our environment
Land requirementsBest charities for reforestation
Best wildlife conservation charities
Best charities for protecting the Amazon rainforest
Best charities that protect our national parks
Water footprintBest charities that fight for clean water
Best charities that help conserve our rivers
Best charities to save our oceans
Agrochemical usageBest charities that help farmers
Best 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

Though it is helpful to reduce the environmental impact of your personal apricots 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 your environmental impact. And it is one of the ways we measure the effects of our human-induced global climate change. Yes, even from eating apricots!

“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 apricots:

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 apricots. 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 apricots—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 apricots, 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 with, e.g., eating apricots.

Final Thoughts

Apricots are a delicious fruit with a fairly average environmental impact. However, there are still many environmentally-damaging components to their life cycle. Irrigation requirements, significant use of pesticides, and especially styrofoam packaging can all cause serious damage to the environment. Therefore, you should still make sure to reduce your personal consumption as much as possible and support eco-friendly organizations that tackle the larger environmental issues. That way, you can help to reduce the environmental impact of apricots at all levels. 

Stay impactful,

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