The Environmental Impact of Cherries: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Cherries: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:19 Minutes

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Cherries are a staple fruit in everything from pies to mixed drinks. Their blossoms draw millions of crowds to public parks every spring, especially in Japan. They’re healthy too—a cup of cherries provides 3 grams of fiber and 1.4 grams of protein. But cherries can also have a negative effect on the environment. So we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of cherries?

Cherries have a minimally negative impact on the environment. The negative aspects mainly come from their use of pesticides, monoculture farming methods, and irrigation requirements. However, cherry trees have high carbon sequestering abilities and fertilize the soil when grown. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Cherries

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

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

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Cherries

The overall environmental impact of cherries is minimally negative. The main environmental impacts come from high agrochemical use, occasional use of monoculture farming, and irrigation. Overall, their environmental impact is lower than other fruits. 

Cherries have some positives when it comes to their environmental impact. Some of their more positive impacts include using polyculture farming sometimes, and being involved in reforestation projects around the world. They do, however, still have some negative impacts. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for cherriesCherries’ land requirements are fairly high. This is mainly because of their high pesticide use and monoculture farming, in some cases. This means that their land use has a moderately negative environmental impact. 
Water footprint of cherriesCherries have a very low water footprint of 35 inches of water a year. They can, however, have a negative impact considering they use a high amount of pesticides and irrigation, when grown in California. 
Agrochemical usage for cherriesCherries’ agrochemical use is high. This is made worse by the fact that they use highly polluting nitrogen fertilizers. 
Carbon footprint of cherriesThe carbon footprint of cherries is fairly low at 0.19kg (0.41 lb) of CO2e per pound of cherries. This is mainly caused by their high pesticide use, low-density farming, and significant plastic packaging. Their carbon footprint is medium to low compared to other fruits. 
Waste generation of cherriesCherries’ waste generation is high. This is mainly due to their plastic packaging and low composting rates. 

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 cherries’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Cherries

Cherries’ land requirements are fairly high. This Is mainly because of their high pesticide use and monoculture farming, in some cases. This means that their land use has a moderately negative environmental impact. 

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

Growing cherries 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 cherries impact their environmental footprint?

In short, cherries have a minimally negative impact on the environment, mainly due to their high use of pesticides and occasional monoculture farming practices. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Cherries

Cherries have a very low water footprint of 35 inches of water a year. They can, however, have a negative impact considering they use a high amount of pesticides and irrigation, when grown in California. 

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 cherries’ water impact.

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

In short, cherries’ high use of pesticides and irrigation requirements, depending on where they are grown, amount to a moderate water footprint. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Cherries

Cherries’ agrochemical use is high. This is made worse by the fact that they use highly polluting nitrogen fertilizers. 

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 cherries’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact.

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

In short, cherries’ use of excessive pesticides as well as nitrogen fertilizer means that their agrochemical footprint is very high. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Cherries

The carbon footprint of cherries is fairly low at 0.19kg (0.41 lb) of CO2e per pound of cherries. This is mainly caused by their high pesticide use, lower-density farming, and significant plastic packaging. Their carbon footprint is medium to low compared to 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 cherries 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 cherries breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact.

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

  • What is the overall carbon footprint of cherries: The overall carbon footprint of cherries is 0.19kg (0.41 lb) of CO2e per pound of cherries. This means that for every pound of cherries produced, 0.19kg of carbon is released into the atmosphere. This is a fairly low carbon footprint compared to other fruits. 
  • What are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of cherries: The main factors that contribute to cherries’ carbon footprint are their use of plastic packaging, above-average pesticide use, and lower-density orchards compared to many other fruits. 
  • Which life-cycle stage of cherries has the highest carbon footprint: The stage that contributes the most to cherries’ carbon footprint is harvesting, processing, and packaging. This is due to their mechanized processing and plastic packaging

In short, cherries have a fairly low carbon footprint compared to other fruits. Though they still cause emissions through plastic packaging and pesticide use. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Cherries

Cherries’ waste generation is high. This is mainly due to their plastic packaging and low composting rates. 

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 cherries’ waste affects the environment.

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

In short, cherries have a high amount of packaging and organic waste. Due to the nature of their waste, they tend to contribute significantly to landfills. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Cherries Industry

The cherry industry has historically been somewhat bad for the environment. Their occasional monoculture farming and pesticide use has been damaging to lands and waterways. 

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 cherries have fared throughout history. 

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

In short, cherries have damaged the environment in many different ways over the years, mainly due to their high use of pesticides and monoculture farming. 

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 cherries, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and cherries-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 Cherries

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

  1. Avoid plastic packaging: Many cherries come with plastic packaging. However, it is much better for the environment to choose cherries with no packaging or cardboard packaging. Cardboard packaging is more widely recycled, and so less of it will end up in landfills. Mitigating landfill contribution is essential for reducing your negative environmental impact. 
  2. Buy domestic cherries: Although there are lots of cherries grown in the US today, importing cherries is on the rise, mostly coming from Chile. Imported cherries will create more carbon emissions due to their longer transportation times, which contributes negatively to the environment. 
  3. Buy organic cherries: A major contributor to the environmental impact of cherries is their pesticide use. Organic farms commit to avoiding chemicals like pesticides and thus avoid many of their worst environmental effects. 
  4. Compost and recycle: Even if you have to buy cherries with packaging, make sure that you recycle as much as you can. Likewise, make sure that you compost any cherry pits or uneaten cherries so they don’t end up in landfills. If your city doesn’t have a composting program, consider creating your own in your backyard

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

Cherries can cause a wide range of environmental damage. Though there are some things you can do at the consumer level to reduce your impact, there are also several things outside of your control. Fortunately, there are organizations that are working hard to prevent and reverse damage to the environment caused by industries like cherry agriculture. 

In the table below are some of the best environmental charities that work in the areas where cherry 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
Best charities that promote recycling

Though it is helpful to reduce the environmental impact of your personal 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 cherries!

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 cherries:

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 cherries. 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 cherries – 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 cherries, 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 cherries.

Final Thoughts

Cherries might have a lot to answer for in terms of their environmental impact, such as very high pesticide use. However, as fruits go, cherries are one of the most environmentally-conscious. Low use of irrigation, domestic production, lack of major deforestation cases, and occasional use of polyculture farming means that their impact is much less than it could be. However, there are still steps you can take to reduce this impact further, such as buying organic cherries, composting, and recycling. Following those steps will really help to reduce your environmental impact whilst still enjoying cherries. 

Stay impactful,

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