The Environmental Impact of Avocados: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Avocados: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

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Avocados are a delicious and trendy fruit. They have exploded in popularity over the past few decades, with their US consumption increasing by around 500% between 1985 and 2021. Avocados also have lots of health benefits, including generous helpings of vitamins C+E, as well as magnesium and potassium. They are a classic staple on toast, in salads, and of course, as guacamole. But many steps in the life cycle of avocados can have a serious impact on the environment. So, we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of avocados?

Avocados have a moderately negative impact on the environment. They use nitrogen fertilizer and have moderately high irrigation requirements. They also need a lot of land to grow and use plastic packaging. 

In this article, we will examine the environmental impact of avocados from several different angles. We will go through the life-cycle of avocados, detailing their impact on the environment from growth to distribution to your plate to waste management. We will then compare the environmental impact of avocados 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 avocados-related.

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Avocados

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is one of the ways we measure the potential environmental effects of our actions, like the consumption of avocados. 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 avocados – leave an impact on our environment. When it comes to food in general, and avocados in specific, the following are key factors:

To understand the overall environmental impact of avocados, 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 avocados, from farm to table.

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Avocados

The overall environmental impact of avocados is moderately negative. The main factors behind this are nitrogen fertilizer use, moderately high irrigation requirements, low land yield, monoculture farming practices, and waste mismanagement. 

Avocado production has some eco-friendly components. For example, they use very few pesticides and use cardboard packaging which has a high recycling rate. However, there are still many aspects of their production that are more harmful to the environment. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for avocadosAvocados have a low land yield and are grown in monocultures. Thus, they have a fairly negative impact on the environment at this stage. 
Water footprint of avocadosAvocados have a moderate water footprint of about 50 inches of water per year. They require a significant amount of irrigation, yet need very little water to clear up pesticide runoff. 
Agrochemical usage for avocadosAvocado agrochemical use is moderate. They use few pesticides, but they also use harmful nitrogen fertilizer.
Carbon footprint of avocadosAvocados have a high carbon footprint at around 0.85kg (1.9lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados. The main reasons for this are transportation emissions, deforestation due to high land use, waste management, and significant water consumption.
Waste generation of avocadosAvocados waste generation is fairly high. Most of their waste, both organic and packaging, ends up in landfills so their environmental impact is fairly negative 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 all the important aspects of avocados’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Avocados

Avocados have a low land yield and are grown in monocultures. Thus, they have a fairly negative impact on the environment at this stage. 

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

Growing avocados 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 avocados impact their environmental footprint?

In short, the environmental impact of avocado land requirements is fairly negative. The main factors contributing to this are monoculture growing practices, long growth duration, and high land use. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Avocados

Avocados have a moderate water footprint of about 50 inches of water per year. They require a significant amount of irrigation, yet need very little water to clear up pesticide runoff. 

Avocados have a moderate water footprint. 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 to avocados’ water impact. 

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

In short, the significant irrigation requirements of avocados means that their environmental impact at this stage is fairly negative. However, their use of pesticides is generally low. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Avocados

Avocado agrochemical use is moderate. They use few pesticides, but they also use harmful nitrogen fertilizer.

Pesticides and fertilizers 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 avocados’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact. 

How does the pesticide and fertilizer usage of avocados impact their environmental footprint?

In short, avocados’ use of nitrogen fertilizer means their environmental impact at this stage is moderately negative. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Avocados

Avocados have a high carbon footprint at around 0.85kg (1.9lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados. The main reasons for this are transportation emissions, deforestation due to high land use, waste management, and significant water consumption.

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 avocados 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 avocados breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact. 

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

  • What is the overall carbon footprint of avocados: The overall carbon footprint of avocados is around 0.85 kg (1.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados. This is one of the highest carbon footprints among fruits.
  • What are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of avocados: The main contributing factors to avocados’ high carbon footprint are their high transportation distances, high water use, and mismanagement of waste. 
  • Which life-cycle stage of avocados has the highest carbon footprint: The life-cycle stage with the highest impact on avocados environmental impact is transportation. Most avocados come from Mexico and are transported to the US in refrigerated trucks

In short, avocados’ use of water, high-carbon transportation methods, and lack of composting and recycling result in one of the highest carbon footprints among fruit. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Avocados

Avocados waste generation is fairly high. Most of their waste, both organic and packaging, ends up in landfills so their environmental impact is fairly negative at this stage.

When fruit waste, either packaging or organic materials, is disposed of, they 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 avocado waste affects the environment. 

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

In short, the use of plastic packaging and lack of composting efforts means that avocados have a fairly negative waste impact. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Avocado Industry

Avocados have partaken in some farming practices that have harmed the environment a lot over the years. These include the destruction of Mexican forests, damage to aquatic life from plastic, and 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 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 avocados have fared throughout history.

What have been the key historical environmental issues of the avocado industry?

In short, avocados have a fairly negative track record when it comes to their historical environmental impact. Many of their impacts have caused permanent damage to land, wildlife, and water sources. 

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 avocados, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and avocados-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 Avocados

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

  1. Buy unpackaged avocados: A major factor in the environmental impact of an avocado is the packaging. If you buy avocados loose, without any plastic, styrofoam, or cardboard, then your overall waste will be much lower, thus reducing the amount of harmful waste in landfills. 
  2. Recycle and compost avocado waste: If you do buy packaged avocados, try to recycle any packaging to avoid contributing to landfills. You can also compost the pits and skins so they don’t end up in landfills either. If your city doesn’t have a municipal composting service, consider creating one of your own!
  3. Buy domestic avocados: One of the biggest contributors to environmental impact is carbon footprint, which is greatly influenced by transportation distances. If you try to buy avocados that are grown in California or Florida, then you will be cutting down on the emissions from the trucks that deliver them. 
  4. Buy Florida avocados: Irrigation has a major part to play in avocados’ negative environmental impact. Besides being in the US, avocados from Florida require less irrigation. This is because Florida has a higher average rainfall than many other places where avocados are grown. It gets around 54 inches of rain per year, which covers avocados’ water needs. Buying avocados from Florida will thus reduce irrigation and lessen your avocados’ negative environmental impact. 

Following some of these methods can really help you to cut down on your environmental impact of eating avocados. None of these will completely eradicate these negative impacts, since there are always effects that may be outside of your control. But some reduction is always better than nothing!

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 avocados!

“Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gases 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 avocados:

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 avocados. 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 avocados – 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 avocados, 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 avocados.

Final Thoughts

Avocados have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to environmental impact. They use harmful fertilizers, farm in monocultures, and use plastic packaging. However, there are also a lot of ways in which you can reduce your impact through avocado consumption. Buying local avocados and mitigating your packaging consumption are both great places to start. If you follow some of these steps, you can greatly reduce the negative environmental impact your avocado consumption has on the environment. 

Stay impactful,

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