The Environmental Impact of Kiwis: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Kiwis: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:17 Minutes

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Kiwis are a delicious tropical fruit. In popular culture, they are most associated with the nation of New Zealand and their birds of the same name. They are a lucrative industry too, with the global kiwi market worth almost $7 billion as of 2019. Moreover, they pack in a significant amount of fiber and vitamin C. However, kiwis can have a negative impact on the environment through their growing, manufacturing, transportation, and waste disposal practices. So we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of kiwis?

Kiwis have a minimal negative impact on the environment. They have low water requirements, pesticide use, and packaging. However, they grow in monocultures, come from New Zealand so they have long transportation times to the US, and they generate significant organic waste.

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Kiwis

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

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

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Kiwis

The overall environmental impact of kiwis is minimally negative. This is because they don’t require too many resources to produce, including water and pesticides. This is true even though they have high organic waste generation, are transported from New Zealand, and grow in monocultures. 

Kiwis generally have a small negative impact on the environment because they don’t require significant irrigation, and they don’t use a lot of packaging. However, there are still many aspects of their production that have a negative impact on the environment. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for kiwisKiwis’ land requirements are average amongst fruits. However, kiwi farming has become more popular in recent years which has caused damaging habitat loss. Furthermore, the use of monocultures negatively affects soil quality and surrounding wildlife. 
Water footprint of kiwisKiwis have a relatively low negative impact on the environment in terms of their water footprint. This is because they have a low water requirement of 35 inches of water per year which is covered by natural rainfall in New Zealand. 
Agrochemical usage for kiwisKiwis pesticide usage is low and their fertilizer usage is minimally harmful. This means that their environmental impact is very small at this stage.
Carbon footprint of kiwisThe carbon footprint of kiwis is high at 0.56kg (1.24lb) of CO2e per pound of kiwis. This is mainly because they are transported from New Zealand in refrigerated trucks, have long growth durations, use mechanized processing, and suffer from low composting rates. 
Waste generation of kiwisKiwis are delicate so they use a wide variety of packaging materials which often end up in landfill. They also have high organic waste generation. All of this has a significantly negative impact on the environment.

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 all the important aspects of kiwis’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Kiwis

Kiwis’ land requirements are average amongst fruits. However, kiwi farming has become more popular in recent years which has caused damaging habitat loss. Furthermore, the use of monocultures negatively affects soil quality and surrounding wildlife. 

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

Growing kiwis 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 kiwis impact their environmental footprint?

In short, the use of monocultures, as well as longer growth times and average land yields mean that kiwis’ environmental impact at this stage is moderately negative. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Kiwis

Kiwis have a relatively low negative impact on the environment in terms of their water footprint. This is because they have a low water requirement of 35 inches of water per year which is covered by natural rainfall in New Zealand.

Kiwis have a moderate water footprint. 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 aspects of the kiwis’ water impact. 

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

In short, the fact that kiwis use very minimal irrigation and have low pesticide rates means their impact on the environment is very low at this stage. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Kiwis

Kiwis pesticide usage is low and their fertilizer usage is minimally harmful. This means that their environmental impact is very small at this stage. 

Pesticides and fertilizers 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 kiwis’ pesticide and fertilizer rates impact the environment.

How does the pesticide and fertilizer usage of kiwis impact their environmental footprint?

In short, kiwis’ minimal use of pesticides, as well as their use of less harmful fertilizers, means that their environmental impact is very minimally negative at this stage. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Kiwis

The carbon footprint of kiwis is high at 0.56kg (1.24lb) of CO2e per pound of kiwis. This is mainly because they are transported from New Zealand in refrigerated trucks, have long growth durations, use mechanized processing, and suffer from low composting rates. 

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 kiwis 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 kiwis breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact.

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

In short, the high transportation distances, as well as other factors like mechanized processing and refrigeration all contribute to kiwis’ relatively high carbon footprint. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Kiwis

Kiwis are delicate so they use a wide variety of packaging materials which often end up in landfill. They also have high organic waste generation. All of this has a significantly negative impact on the environment. 

When fruit waste, either packaging or organic materials, is disposed of, they 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 kiwi waste affects the environment. 

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

In short, kiwis use a fair amount of packaging and their peels often end up in landfill too. This has a negative impact on local wildlife, soil quality, and creates harmful methane gas. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Kiwi Industry

Kiwis have partaken in some farming practices that have harmed the environment a lot over the years, especially in China. Some of the impacts are soil and groundwater pollution and deforestation leading to habitat loss. 

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 kiwis have fared throughout history.

What have been the key historical environmental issues of the kiwi industry?

In short, kiwi production, especially in China, has had some serious impacts on the environment. From groundwater damage to wildlife habitat loss, the kiwi industry has had a negative impact on the environment. 

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 kiwis, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and kiwi-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 Kiwis

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

  1. Compost your kiwi peels: The low composting rates of kiwis means that their peels almost always end up in landfills. Therefore, one of the best ways you can reduce your kiwi environmental impact is by making the effort to compost the peels. If your city doesn’t provide composting services, then you can consider making your own compost
  2. Use the whole kiwi: Even better than composting is actually making use of the entire kiwi. There are some great uses for kiwi peels, but one of the best ways to use them is to make your own sweets!
  3. Buy kiwis from smaller farms: Mechanization during the processing stage of kiwis has a significant impact on their carbon footprint, and by proxy, their environmental impact. Small or independent farms tend to use less mechanization. Furthermore, they tend to have higher land efficiency, which can help with another moderate contributor to kiwis’ environmental impact. 

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

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 kiwis!

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 kiwis:

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 kiwis. 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 kiwis – 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 kiwis, 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 kiwis.

Final Thoughts

Kiwis are a staple of fruit salads and smoothies alike, but all that comes at some cost to the environment. Though they are very low-impact in a lot of ways, such as not requiring a lot of water to grow and using less harmful fertilizers than other fruits, they still affect the environment. Their carbon footprint is very high, largely due to transportation from New Zealand, and they generate landfill-bound waste. However, by following some reduction methods, you can help bring your kiwi environmental impact down significantly!

Stay impactful,

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