The Environmental Impact of Blueberries: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Blueberries: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:18 Minutes

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Blueberries are a popular American fruit, with almost 700 million lbs of them produced every year. They are an amazing addition to baked goods and pack a strong nutritional punch with lots of antioxidants and vitamin K. However, blueberries also use a lot of resources during their production which can do a lot of harm to the environment. So, we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of blueberries?

Blueberries have a very negative impact on the environment. This is mainly because they use plastic packaging, a heavy amount of pesticides, and have a high carbon footprint. However, they also require very little irrigation and sequester carbon very well. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Blueberries

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

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

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Blueberries

The overall environmental impact of blueberries is very negative. The main factors that contribute to this are their low land yield, high pesticide use, plastic packaging, and high carbon footprint. 

It must be noted, though, that blueberries have some good qualities when it comes to environmental impact. For one thing, they sequester carbon very well and have very low irrigation requirements. However, these still pale in comparison to the many more damaging qualities they have. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for blueberriesBlueberries’ land requirements are fairly high. On top of this, they also use harmful practices like monoculture farming and tend to erode soil. This means their environmental impact is very negative at this stage. 
Water footprint of blueberriesBlueberries have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches per year. However, because of where they grow, they don’t need to be irrigated, which lowers their water footprint significantly. 
Agrochemical usage for blueberriesBlueberries’ agrochemical use is fairly high. Their use of ammonium nitrate fertilizer is a particular concern, meaning this stage has a fairly negative environmental impact. 
Carbon footprint of blueberriesBlueberries have a high carbon footprint of 0.45kg (1lb) of CO2e per pound of blueberries. This is mainly because of their high pesticide use, mechanized farming methods, refrigerated transportation, and use of plastic packaging. Their footprint is significant compared to other fruits. 
Waste generation of blueberriesBlueberries’ waste generation is moderate. Though they don’t have much organic waste, they use plastic packaging, which usually ends up in landfills. 

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 blueberries’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Blueberries

Blueberries’ land requirements are fairly high. On top of this, they also use harmful practices like monoculture farming and tend to erode soil. This means their environmental impact is very negative at this stage. 

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

Growing blueberries 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 blueberries impact their environmental footprint?

In short, blueberries’ use of monoculture farming, low land yield, and tendency to erode soil all culminate in a very negative growth environmental impact. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Blueberries

Blueberries have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches per year. However, because of where they grow, they don’t need to be irrigated, which lowers their water footprint significantly. 

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 blueberries’ water impact.

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

In short, blueberries’ lack of irrigation requirements means that their water footprint is very low, despite their use of water-polluting pesticides. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Blueberries

Blueberries’ agrochemical use is fairly high. Their use of ammonium nitrate fertilizer is a particular concern, meaning this stage has a fairly negative environmental impact. 

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 blueberries’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact.

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

In short, blueberries’ use of agrochemicals like pesticides and ammonium nitrate contribute fairly negatively to their environmental impact. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Blueberries

Blueberries have a high carbon footprint of 0.45kg (1lb) of CO2e per pound of blueberries. This is mainly because of their high pesticide use, mechanized farming methods, refrigerated transportation, and use of plastic packaging. Their footprint is significant compared to many other fruits. 

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 blueberries breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact.

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

In short, blueberries have a lot of high-emitting steps in their manufacturing process, leading them to have an above-average carbon footprint for a fruit. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Blueberries

Blueberries’ waste generation is moderate. Though they don’t have much organic waste, they use plastic packaging, which usually ends up in landfills. 

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 blueberries’ waste affects the environment.

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

  • What is the packaging of blueberries: Blueberries are typically packaged in either cardboard trays or plastic clamshells. Both cardboard and plastic have negative environmental impacts during their production alone—cardboard because of deforestation and plastic because of greenhouse gas emissions and chemical runoff. Because they use these types of packaging, blueberries have a very high packaging impact. 
  • How is the packaging of blueberries disposed of: Plastic and cardboard can both generally be recycled, but they aren’t recycled at the same rates in practice. Cardboard has a very high recycling rate at 89%, whereas plastic has a very low recycling rate at 9%. Therefore, the plastic portion of blueberry packaging is very likely to end up in landfills. Landfills cause significant environmental damage, including land clearance and chemical pollution. Furthermore, plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose. Blueberries’ use of plastic packaging thus has a very negative environmental impact. 
  • How are blueberries disposed of: Blueberries are generally consumed whole, so they don’t have significant consistent food waste. They also have a significantly longer shelf life than other fruits, which means that spoilage is not too much of a risk. Overall, food waste does not contribute very meaningfully to blueberries’ environmental impact. 

In short, blueberries’ use of plastic packaging is the main culprit in their waste footprint, with much of it ending up in landfills. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Blueberry Industry

The blueberry industry has historically been very damaging to the environment. They have caused significant land loss, species loss, and water 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 blueberries have fared throughout history. 

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

In short, the history of the blueberry industry is rife with environmental damage. From habitat loss to water pollution, blueberries have had a hand in many different kinds of environmental destruction. 

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 blueberries, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and blueberry-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 Blueberries

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

  1. Buy organic blueberries: Pesticides are a major contributor to blueberries’ environmental impact. Organic farms generally avoid high amounts of chemical pesticides and so they will have a much smaller environmental impact in this area.
  2. Choose cardboard packaging: If you are able to make the choice, cardboard packaging has a smaller environmental impact than plastic packaging because it is easier to recycle. Therefore, if you have the option, it is much better to choose the blueberries that come in cardboard rather than plastic containers. 
  3. Recycle or compost cardboard: Even if you choose cardboard packaging, there is still a risk that it may end up in a landfill. As a result, you should make sure to recycle all blueberry packaging. Alternatively, you could even use it in compost, since cardboard is biodegradable. 

Following some of these methods can really help you cut down on your environmental impact of eating blueberries. 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 blueberries 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 blueberry agriculture.

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

“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 blueberries:

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 blueberries. 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 blueberries – 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 blueberries, 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 blueberries.

Final Thoughts

Blueberries are certainly not the most environmentally-friendly fruits. They use some very harmful agrochemicals like pesticides and ammonium nitrate, are packaged in plastic, and emit a lot of carbon. However, there are still steps you can take to change this. Consuming organic blueberries and disposing of packaging responsibly can help reduce their impact. You can also consider supporting some organizations that are working to reduce overall agricultural environmental damage. These steps will help you become a more environmentally-friendly blueberry consumer!

Stay impactful,

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