The Environmental Impact of Blackberries: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Blackberries: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:18 Minutes

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Blackberry picking is a favorite pastime of many Americans. The blackberry industry itself is worth over $38 million, with 51.3 million lbs produced every year. Hailed as a “superfood”, blackberries are teeming with many essential nutrients, not to mention their delicious tangy flavor. However, blackberries can also have a significantly negative impact on the environment, due to aspects of their manufacturing. So, we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of blackberries?

Blackberries have a moderately negative environmental impact. This is mainly because they use pesticides, nitrogen fertilizers, and plastic packaging, and have high irrigation rates. Nonetheless, some of their upsides include occasional polyculture farming and having a low carbon footprint. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Blackberries

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

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

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Blackberries

The overall environmental impact of blackberries is moderately negative. The main factors that contribute to their environmental impact are irrigation rates, pesticide usage, nitrogen fertilizers, and plastic packaging. 

Blackberries have a lot going for them when it comes to their environmental impact. They occasionally use the more eco-friendly polyculture farming, don’t generate much organic waste, and have a very low carbon footprint. However, they can still cause significant environmental damage through other factors. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for blackberriesBlackberries’ land requirements are moderate. They create some harm through things such as soil erosion and monocultures. However, they occasionally use polyculture farming and store carbon, so their environmental impact is only slightly negative at this stage. 
Water footprint of blackberriesBlackberries have a moderate to high water requirement of 50–100 inches of water per year. Because of where they are grown, they also require a significant amount of irrigation, which significantly raises their harm to the environment and renders this stage of their impact as high.
Agrochemical usage for blackberriesBlackberries’ agrochemical use is high. They use a significant amount of pesticides and harmful nitrogen fertilizers, which cause their environmental impact to be very negative in this stage.
Carbon footprint of blackberriesBlackberries have an incredibly low carbon footprint at 0.07kg (0.15) of CO2e per pound of blackberries. The most significant factors contributing to this are their irrigation requirements, pesticide use, refrigerated trucking, and plastic packaging.
Waste generation of blackberriesBlackberries’ waste generation is moderate. While they don’t produce any organic waste, their plastic packaging is a major negative contributor to their environmental impact. 

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 blackberries’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Blackberries

Blackberries’ land requirements are moderate. They create some harm through things such as soil erosion and monocultures. However, they occasionally use polyculture farming and store carbon, so their environmental impact is only slightly negative at this stage. 

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

Growing blackberries 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 blackberries impact their environmental footprint?

  • What is the land usage of blackberries: Blackberries yield around 22 tons per hectare. This is a moderately average yield for a fruit. For example, strawberries yield up to 25 tons per hectare, and bananas up to 100. Therefore, the land usage of blackberries contributes moderately to their environmental impact. 
  • Where and how are blackberries grown: Most blackberries grow in North America, with Oregon being the most common blackberry-growing state. Blackberries are grown on bushes. Blackberry bushes have good carbon-sequestering properties, storing around 1.6% more carbon than a grass-covered area. For this reason, blackberry growth methods don’t contribute significantly to their environmental impact. 
  • Are blackberries grown in a monoculture or polyculture: Blackberries are sometimes invasive, and as such, they can turn areas into monocultures even when they are wild. Generally, they are farmed in monocultures. However, they are also sometimes farmed in polycultures. Monocultures are very bad for the environment, and so the fact that they are only sometimes farmed in this style is good news for their environmental impact. 
  • How does the growing of blackberries affect soil fertility and erosion: Blackberries have fairly weak root systems, which means that they can leave soil vulnerable to erosion. As a result, blackberries’ relationship to soil contributes negatively to their environmental impact. 
  • How does the blackberries industry affect the loss of habitable land: Blackberries don’t contribute significantly to deforestation. However, they can have a particular effect on cleared areas after deforestation, damaging livestock and preventing healthy restoration. 
  • How does the blackberry industry affect wildlife and biodiversity: Monoculture farming can be harmful to wildlife. However, because blackberries don’t exclusively use monocultures, they don’t contribute too much to this harm. 

In short, blackberries’ moderate land yield and occasional polyculture farming mean that they don’t have too big of an impact on the environment. However, they still contribute to erosion and decreases in land fertility, so they have a minor negative environmental impact. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Blackberries

Blackberries have a moderate to high water requirement of 50–100 inches of water per year. Because of where they are grown, they also require a significant amount of irrigation, which significantly raises their harm to the environment and renders this stage of their impact as high. 

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 blackberries’ water impact.

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

In short, blackberries’ need for significant irrigation and high use of pesticides means that their impacts on water systems are fairly significant. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Blackberries

Blackberries’ agrochemical use is high. They use a significant amount of pesticides and harmful nitrogen fertilizers, which cause their environmental impact to be very negative in this stage. 

Pesticides and fertilizers are agrochemicals that can have a significant negative 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 blackberries’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact.

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

In short, the fact that blackberries use a high amount of agrochemicals means that their environmental impact is very negative in this category. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Blackberries

Blackberries have an incredibly low carbon footprint of 0.07kg (0.15) of CO2e per pound of blackberries. The most significant factors contributing to this are their irrigation requirements, pesticide use, refrigerated trucking, and plastic 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 blackberries breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact.

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

  • What is the overall carbon footprint of blackberries: The overall carbon footprint of blackberries is very low at 0.07kg (0.15) of CO2e per pound of blackberries. This means that for every pound of blackberries produced, 0.07kg of carbon is released into the atmosphere. This is a very low carbon footprint compared to other fruits. 
  • What are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of blackberries: The main factors that contribute to blackberries’ carbon footprint are pesticide and irrigation use, as well as refrigerated transportation and plastic packaging.
  • Which life-cycle stage of blackberries has the highest carbon footprint: The stage that contributes the most to blackberries’ carbon footprint is growth. This is because of the resources, such as pesticides and irrigation, that blackberries consume during this stage. 

In short, blackberries have a very small carbon footprint, despite some factors like refrigeration and irrigation that can drive up their emissions. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Blackberries

Blackberries’ waste generation is moderate. While they don’t produce any organic waste, their plastic packaging is a major negative contributor to their environmental impact. 

When fruit waste, 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 blackberries’ waste affects the environment.

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

  • What is the packaging of blackberries: Berries are generally packaged in plastic clamshells for optimal protection of their delicate skins. Plastic has a very negative environmental impact during its production process. Therefore, blackberries’ negative environmental impact is raised significantly by using plastic. 
  • How is the packaging of blackberries disposed of: Plastic packaging has very low recycling rates, at around 9%. This means that the majority of blackberry packaging is ending up in landfills. Landfills cause significant environmental damage, including land clearance and chemical pollution. Furthermore, plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose. The quantity and longevity of blackberries in landfills contribute very negatively to their environmental impact. 
  • How are blackberries disposed of: Blackberries are generally consumed whole, so they don’t have significant food waste. However, blackberries—and berries in general—have a shorter shelf life than some other fruits. This may lead to them being thrown out more easily, but the waste is small. 

In short, blackberries’ food waste contributes moderately negatively to their carbon footprint, mainly because of their use of plastic packaging. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Blackberries Industry

The blackberry industry has historically been somewhat harmful to land, wildlife, and water sources. Some contributing factors include nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides, and land usage. 

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 blackberries have fared throughout history. 

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

  • How much land has been lost because of blackberry production: A significant amount of land has been used for blackberry farming. In Oregon alone, blackberry farming takes up just over 6,000 acres. Because blackberries are invasive, they also pose a threat to local plants, sometimes inadvertently choking out everything in their path. 
  • Which wildlife species have been negatively impacted or displaced because of blackberries production: Pesticide use has had a significantly negative historical impact on wildlife populations. Pesticides get into soil and water, rising up the food chain and being consumed by many different species. This has caused wildlife to have limited or contaminated food sources, resulting in declining populations. Blackberries’ high use of pesticides has been particularly damaging to wildlife over the years. 
  • Have water sources and soil been contaminated because of blackberry production: Nitrogen fertilizer is particularly damaging to waterways. The algae that are promoted in their growth can be very damaging to aquatic life and can spread easily to nearby rivers, streams, and lakes. Blackberries’ heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer means that they have caused some serious harm to waterways over the years. 

In short, blackberries have had some major negative impacts on the environment over the years. This is mainly due to their land use, pesticides, and nitrogen fertilizers. 

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 blackberries, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and blackberry-related carbon emissions, which will 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 Blackberries

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 blackberries that would otherwise most negatively impact the environment:

  1. Buy organic blackberries: Pesticides are one of the biggest concerns when it comes to blackberries’ environmental impact. 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.
  2. Avoid plastic packaging: Most blackberries come in plastic packaging. However, there are still a significant amount that come in open-top cardboard containers, especially ones from local farmers. Cardboard has a far higher recycling rate than plastic—89%—and so is far less likely to end up in a landfill. It can also be composted.
  3. Consume your blackberries as soon as you buy them: Because blackberries have a shorter shelf life than many other fruits, they are more likely to go to waste. Making sure that you eat them as soon as you buy them will help you avoid adding blackberry waste to the landfill. 

Following some of these methods can really help you to cut down on your environmental impact of eating blackberries. 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!

Which Organizations Can You Support to Help Alleviate Your Environmental Impact

While blackberries 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 blackberry agriculture.

In the table below are some of the best environmental charities that work in the areas where blackberries 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 blackberry 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 blackberries!

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 blackberries:

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 blackberries. 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 blackberries—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 blackberries, 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 with, e.g., eating blackberries.

Final Thoughts

Blackberries may have a very low carbon footprint, but that doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to the environment. Using harmful practices like excessive pesticides and plastic packaging can negatively impact ecosystems, waterways, and soil fertility alike. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to mitigate these damages, such as buying organic blackberries or supporting ecological organizations. 

Stay impactful,

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