The Environmental Impact of Limes: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Limes: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

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Limes are a very popular fruit with over 23.5 million tons produced every single year. They are commonly used in desserts like key lime pie and even classic cocktails. Limes pack a health punch too, containing a healthy amount of vitamin C and antioxidants. But limes can also negatively impact the environment through their farming and disposal practices. So we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of limes?

Limes have a fairly negative impact on the environment. They use nitrogen fertilizers, excessive pesticides, and plastic packaging, as well as contribute to deforestation and groundwater pollution. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Limes

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

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

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Limes

Overall, limes have a fairly negative environmental impact. The main factors that contribute to this are their agrochemical use (particularly nitrogen fertilizer), their plastic packaging, and their irrigation requirements. 

Limes have a lot going for them in terms of environmental impact. They have a low carbon footprint, don’t require too much land to grow, and have even been used in land renewal projects. However, they also have many qualities that are harmful to the environment as well. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for limesLimes’ land requirements are moderate. However, their participation in rainforest destruction is harmful to the environment. 
Water footprint of limesLimes have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches per year. However, the regions they grow in have low rainfall. So, they require a significant amount of irrigation. Furthermore, their pesticide use is damaging to surrounding water sources. 
Agrochemical usage for limesLimes’ agrochemical usage is very high. They use considerable pesticides, as well as nitrogen fertilizer, which is very damaging to the environment. 
Carbon footprint of limesThe carbon footprint of limes is low at 0.18kg (0.39lb) of CO2e per pound of limes. This is mainly caused by their irrigation requirements, high use of pesticides, plastic packaging, mechanized harvesting, and refrigerated transportation from Mexico. 
Waste generation of limesLimes’ waste generation is fairly high. This is because they use both plastic and cardboard packaging and have 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 limes’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Limes

Limes’ land requirements are moderate. However, their participation in rainforest destruction is harmful to the environment. 

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

Growing limes 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 limes impact their environmental footprint?

In short, limes’ tendency to grow on deforested rainforest lands has a devastating impact on biodiversity, land fertility, and wildlife. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Limes

Limes have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches per year. However, the regions they grow in have low rainfall. So, they require a significant amount of irrigation. Furthermore, their pesticide use is damaging to surrounding water sources. 

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 limes’ water impact.

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

In short, limes’ high irrigation requirements, as well as their high pesticide usage means that they have a very high water footprint. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Limes

Limes’ agrochemical usage is very high. They use considerable pesticides, as well as nitrogen fertilizer, which is very damaging to the environment. 

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 limes’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact.

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

In short, limes’ high pesticide use, as well as their need for harmful nitrogen fertilizers means that their agrochemical impact is very negative. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Limes

The carbon footprint of limes is low at 0.18kg (0.39lb) of CO2e per pound of limes. This is mainly caused by their irrigation requirements, high use of pesticides, plastic packaging, mechanized harvesting, and refrigerated transportation from Mexico.

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 limes 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 limes breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact.

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

In short, despite some of the carbon-emitting resources allocated to limes, they still maintain a below-average carbon footprint amongst fruits. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Limes

Limes’ waste generation is fairly high. This is because they use both plastic and cardboard packaging and have 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 limes’ waste affects the environment.

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

In short, limes’ use of plastic packaging, as well as low composting rates means that their environmental impact is negative at this stage. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Limes Industry

The lime industry has historically had a harmful effect on the environment. Their main offenses over the years include desertification, harmful pesticide pollution, and plastic pollution. 

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 limes have fared throughout history. 

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

In short, limes have harmed the environment considerably over the years, particularly through the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers and the creation of desertification areas.

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 limes, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and limes-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 Limes

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

  1. Buy unpackaged limes: Plastic nets used to package limes contribute significantly to landfills and ocean plastic. Therefore, opting to buy loose limes without these nets can help you reduce your lime environmental impact considerably. 
  2. Buy organic limes: Pesticides are a major contributor to limes’ negative environmental impact, and so you should try to cut down on these as much as possible. Organic farms commit to avoiding chemicals. If you try to buy limes from organic farms, you will thus be greatly reducing all the environmental damage that pesticides can cause. 
  3. Compost lime peels: Food waste ending up in landfills causes a lot of environmental damage. If you make the effort to compost your lime peels, then you will avoid them ending up in landfills. If your city doesn’t provide composting, you can consider creating your own
  4. Use lime peels: If you don’t want to compost, you can also consider using the whole lime so nothing goes to waste. Lime zest is a popular ingredient in baking and cocktails. You can even make lime peels into candy!

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

Limes 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 lime agriculture. 

In the table below, we have compiled some of the best organizations that work in the areas where lime production has affected the environment – and beyond. So that you can make an impact through more than just purchasing power!

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 footprint Best charities for climate change
Best carbon offsets for individuals
Waste generation Best 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 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 limes!

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 limes:

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 limes. 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 limes – 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 limes, 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 to, e.g., eating limes.

Final Thoughts

Limes are a great garnish for drinks and ingredient in baking, but they come at a fairly high environmental cost. Their use of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers has polluted soils and waters. Their use of plastic packaging has contributed to landfills and ocean plastic. And their farming has caused rainforest deforestation. However, through changing your consumption habits, as well as supporting organizations dedicated to reversing and preventing these effects, you can become a much more responsible lime consumer!

Stay impactful,

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