The Environmental Impact of Clementines: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Clementines: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:19 Minutes

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Clementines have been popular for centuries. They contain just 35 calories and are full of vitamin C and antioxidants. Sometimes known as mandarin oranges, clementines are native to South and Southeast Asia, but are now grown all over the world. However, clementines also have several aspects to their production that can be very harmful to the environment. So we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of clementines?

Clementines have a highly negative environmental impact. This is largely because of the types of fertilizers and amount of pesticides they use, as well as their high irrigation requirements. Their environmental impact is higher than most fruits. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Clementines

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

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

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Clementines

The overall environmental impact of clementines is significantly negative. The main factors that contribute to this are their irrigation requirements, pesticide use, plastic packaging, and phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizer usage. 

Clementines have a lot of positive qualities in terms of their environmental impact. For one, they store carbon well and have an incredibly low carbon footprint. But besides these things, clementines contribute very significantly to environmental damage. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for clementinesClementines’ land requirements are fairly high, yielding only 16 tons per hectare. They also farm in monocultures and have been linked to deforestation, meaning their environmental impact is very negative at this stage. 
Water footprint of clementinesClementines have a moderate water footprint of 50 inches of water per year. Because of where they grow, they need considerable irritation, which raises their footprint significantly. 
Agrochemical usage for clementinesClementines’ agrochemical use is very high. This, paired with the fact that they use phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers means that they have a very negative environmental impact in this area. 
Carbon footprint of clementinesThe carbon footprint of clementines is 0.06 kg (0.13 lbs) CO2e per pound of clementines. The main contributors to this carbon footprint are their use of pesticides, the energy used to transport them, and the use of plastic packaging. However, this carbon footprint is still relatively small compared to other fruits. 
Waste generation of clementinesClementines’ waste generation is high. This is especially true considering the low recycling rates of their wood and plastic packaging, as well as their 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 clementines’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Clementines

Clementines’ land requirements are fairly high, yielding only 16 tons per hectare. They also farm in monocultures and have been linked to deforestation, meaning 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 clementines 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 clementines impact their environmental footprint?

In short, clementines’ use of monoculture farming, low land yield, and participation in deforestation means they harm the environment quite a lot in this area. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Clementines

Clementines have a moderate water footprint of 50 inches of water per year. Because of where they grow, they need considerable irritation, which raises their 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 to clementines’ water impact.

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

In short, clementines have a serious water impact, mainly due to their high irrigation needs and significant pesticide usage. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Clementines

Clementines’ agrochemical use is very high. This, paired with the fact that they use phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers means that they have a very negative environmental impact in this area. 

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 clementines’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact.

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

In short, clementines’ use of excessive agrochemicals, especially phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers, is very damaging to the environment. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Clementines

The carbon footprint of clementines is 0.06 kg (0.13 lbs) CO2e per pound of clementines. The main contributors to this carbon footprint are their use of pesticides, the energy used to transport them, and the use of plastic packaging. However, this carbon footprint is still relatively small 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 clementines 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 clementines breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact.

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

In short, though clementines have some carbon-emitting steps to their production process, their carbon footprint is still one of the lowest among fruits. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Clementines

Clementines’ waste generation is high. This is especially true considering the low recycling rates of their wood and plastic packaging, as well as their 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 clementines’ waste affects the environment.

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

In short, clementines’ use of plastic and wood in their packaging, as well as their low composting rates, means that they contribute to landfills significantly, which has a damaging effect on the environment. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Clementines Industry

The clementines industry has historically had a fairly negative environmental impact. They frequently have used harmful chemicals like nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, as well as requiring significant irrigation, all of which have damaging environmental effects. 

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.. Let’s see how clementines have fared throughout history. 

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

  • How much land has been lost because of clementines production: Clementine production has taken up considerable portions of land, especially in major citrus-producing countries like Spain and Italy. In one Spanish citrus farm, clementine production alone has taken up 66,000 hectares of land. This land use has caused pesticides to be spread far and wide throughout the region, which has damaged wildlife. 
  • Which wildlife species have been negatively impacted or displaced because of clementines production: One of the major dangers to wildlife is the increasing expansion of monoculture agriculture, which does not offer enough biodiversity to be a thriving ecosystem. Clementines’ historical use of monocultures means that their cultivation has had a significant impact on wildlife. 
  • Have water sources and soil been contaminated because of clementines production: Irrigation is particularly harmful to water sources because it disrupts natural water balances. Pesticides also get into water and cause issues for aquatic life. Finally, phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers both have a history of promoting invasive algae species, which spread through water. The continued use of irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizers by clementine farms means that they have harmed water sources considerably.

In short, clementines’ history of land clearing in Spain and Italy, as well as their use of irrigation and pesticides, and phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers, have caused them to have a detrimental impact on the environment 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 clementines, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and clementine-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 Clementines

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

  1. Buy clementines with less (plastic) packaging: This might come at the cost of nicks and bruises, but reducing or even omitting plastic from your clementine footprint is crucial. Even avoiding more easily-recyclable materials like cardboard and wood can help you to reduce your environmental impact. One of the best ways to do this is to buy clementines individually from the grocery store, not in bags or crates. 
  2. Buy organic clementines: Since pesticides are a major contributor to the clementine’s carbon footprint, it would be advisable to purchase organic clementines. Organic farms generally avoid nitrogen fertilizers and so they are good to support if you want to reduce your fertilizer impact. If you make sure to buy organic clementines, you will be able to lower your clementine environmental impact by even more. 
  3. Compost and recycle: Another major contributor to the clementines’ environmental impact is improper waste disposal. Make sure that you compost all organic waste and recycle all paper waste to prevent them from ending up in landfills. If you don’t have a government-run composting or recycling program in your area, consider making your own compost and even using cardboard as roughage.

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

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

“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 clementines:

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 clementines. 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 clementines – 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 clementines, 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 clementines.

Final Thoughts

Though clementines have an extremely low carbon footprint, they still can cause a significant amount of damage to the environment. Their fertilizer usage causes significant damage to waterways, their pesticides are harmful to wildlife, and their irrigation puts strains on resources. However, there are lots of ways you can still consume clementines while reducing your environmental impact, such as reducing packaging or contributing to environmental charities. These will help you be a more positively impactful clementine consumer!

Stay impactful,

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