The Environmental Impact of Dates: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Dates: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:18 Minutes

CLICK TO
SUBSCRIBE

follow follow

Impactful Ninja is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more Learn more .

Affiliate Disclosure

Hey fellow impactful ninja ?

You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.

  • Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.

  • But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.

Why do we add these product links?

First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.

And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

What do these affiliate links mean for you?
  1. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.

  3. And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.

What do these affiliate links mean for us?
  1. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).

  3. And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.

What does this mean for me personally?

You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.

Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.

Stay impactful,

Dates are a sweet, often dried delicacy that’s popular in Middle Eastern desserts. They also have an ever-increasing global market, reaching over a million tons in volume in 2021. In terms of health benefits, dates pack a good amount of protein, potassium, and fiber. However, there are many components to the date production process that can have a very negative impact on the environment. So we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of dates?

Dates have a moderately negative environmental impact. Their main impacts come from high requirements for irrigation and land, as well as their use of nitrogen fertilizers and plastic packaging. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Dates

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

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

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Dates

Dates have a fairly negative environmental impact. This is mainly due to their high land requirements, high irrigation, use of nitrogen fertilizer, and plastic packaging. Their environmental impact is fairly average compared to other fruits. 

Dates have a lot going for them when it comes to environmental impact. They are excellent at sequestering carbon in soil, as well as preserving moisture and fertility. In this sense, they can have some positive impacts on the environment. However, many of their farming practices are still harmful. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for datesDates’ land requirements are fairly high. However, they also sequester carbon very well and preserve moisture and nutrients to maintain fertile soil. Therefore, their environmental impact is very small in this area. 
Water footprint of datesDates have a high water requirement of 64–83 inches of water per year. Because of where they grow, they need significant irrigation to meet this need. Their use of plastic packaging is also harmful to oceans. 
Agrochemical usage for datesDates’ agrochemical use is moderate. They have low pesticide rates, but they use harmful nitrogen fertilizers, which can be harmful to waterways and aquatic life. 
Carbon footprint of datesDates have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.27kg (0.6lb) of CO2e per pound of dates. This is mainly because they use plastic packaging, have high irrigation requirements, and use mechanized harvesting techniques.
Waste generation of datesDates’ waste generation is high. This is primarily because of low composting rates and low recycling rates among their plastic packaging. 

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 dates’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Dates

Dates’ land requirements are fairly high. However, they also sequester carbon very well and preserve moisture and nutrients to maintain fertile soil. Therefore, their environmental impact is very small in this area. 

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

Growing dates 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 dates impact their environmental footprint?

  • What is the land usage of dates: Dates yield around 10–15 tons per hectare. This is a fairly low land yield amongst fruits. For example, strawberries and mangoes both yield up to 20–25 tons per hectare and bananas and pineapples both yield up to 100 tons per hectare. Therefore, each pound of dates is going to need more space than a pound of strawberries and significantly more than a pound of bananas. This can increase the land used for their cultivation and potentially resources allocated to them, which raises their environmental impact. 
  • Where and how are dates grown: Most dates are grown in Egypt, followed by Iran and Algeria. Dates are grown on trees known as date palms. Date palms are particularly good at absorbing carbon. Carbon sequestering helps to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the ground, reducing dates’ emissions and thereby their environmental impact. However, date palms are almost always planted in monocultures, which are generally bad for the environment. Therefore, despite their carbon sequestering, dates’ growth method can still have a significant impact on the environment. 
  • How does the growing of dates affect soil fertility and erosion: Date palms have actually been found to be very beneficial to soil. They prevent soil from eroding and becoming depleted through their moisture-absorbing roots. In this way, dates actually have a positive impact on the environment. 
  • How does the dates industry affect the loss of habitable land: Date farms are much less productive per hectare than other farms, such as apples and oranges. This means that to produce the same amount of dates, they will have to use more land. However, dates have also been used to prevent land depletion and so can actually make land more habitable if used right. 
  • How does the date industry affect wildlife and biodiversity: Monocultures are terrible for biodiversity as they limit pollination, soil microbes, and other wildlife. Because dates are generally planted in monocultures, they have a negative impact on the environment at this stage. 

In short, dates take part in several environmentally-damaging agricultural practices. However, their natural abilities to sequester carbon and maintain fertile soil means their impact is very minimally negative. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Dates

Dates have a high water requirement of 64–83 inches of water per year. Because of where they grow, they need significant irrigation to meet this need. Their use of plastic packaging is also harmful to oceans. 

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 dates’ water impact.

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

In short, dates have a fairly high impact when it comes to water use. They require a significant amount of irrigation and their use of plastic packaging is harmful to oceans. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Dates

Dates’ agrochemical use is moderate. They have low pesticide rates, but they use harmful nitrogen fertilizers, which can be harmful to waterways and aquatic life. 

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 dates’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact.

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

In short, though dates’ pesticide usage is low, their use of nitrogen fertilizer means that their environmental impact from agrochemicals is still fairly negative. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Dates

Dates have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.27kg (0.6lb) of CO2e per pound of dates. This is mainly because they use plastic packaging, have high irrigation requirements, and use mechanized harvesting techniques.

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 dates 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 dates breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact.

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

In short, dates’ carbon footprint is moderate amongst fruits. Their carbon footprint is mainly caused by their packaging rates, high irrigation requirements, and waste disposal practices.

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Dates

Dates’ waste generation is high. This is primarily because of low composting rates and low recycling rates among their plastic packaging. 

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 dates’ waste affects the environment.

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

In short, the waste management of dates contributes fairly significantly to their environmental impact, mainly because of their use of plastic packaging. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Dates Industry

The date industry has historically caused some significant damage to the environment. This has mainly been because of monoculture farming and use of nitrogen fertilizer

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 dates have fared throughout history. 

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

In short, dates have had a major impact on the environment over the years. The steadily-growing date industry will likely continue to cause these damages. 

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 dates, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and date-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 Dates

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 dates that would otherwise most negatively impact the environment:

  1. Buy organic dates: Though dates have low pesticide rates, their use of nitrogen fertilizer is one of the leading contributors to their negative environmental impact. Organic farms generally avoid nitrogen fertilizers and so they are good to support if you want to reduce your fertilizer impact. 
  2. Buy low-packaging dates: Plastic packaging is a huge problem in the date industry and beyond. If you want to reduce your environmental impact when buying dates, then you should make sure to avoid plastic packaging as much as possible. Buying dates in cardboard packaging has a much smaller environmental impact, since it is more easily recycled. No packaging at all, of course, is best.
  3. Compost your date pits: Low composting rates represent trends, but you can change that. Making the effort to compost the pits from your dates will make sure that you are not contributing to the landfill. If your city doesn’t offer a composting program, then you can try creating your own

Following some of these methods can really help you to cut down on your environmental impact of eating dates. 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 dates 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 agricultural industries like dates.

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

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 dates:

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 dates. 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 dates – 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 dates, 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 dates.

Final Thoughts

Dates have a lot to answer for in the environmental impact department. They use significant amounts of irrigation, implement nitrogen fertilizers, and are packaged in polluting plastic. However, they also have plenty of good qualities, like carbon storage, and with the right efforts on your part, can have a much less negative impact. Consider following some of the reduction methods or supporting an organization to help reduce your environmental impact while still consuming dates. 

Stay impactful,

Illustration of a signature for Teresa

Sources

Photo of author
Did you like this article?

Get the 5-minute newsletter that makes reading impactful news enjoyable—packed with actionable insights to make a positive impact in your daily life.

Three Related Posts

One Unrelated Post