The Environmental Impact of Oranges: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Oranges: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:17 Minutes

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Oranges are by far the most popular citrus fruit, and for good reason. They are suitable for juices, baking, and general consumption. They also pack a great health punch, with almost 100 grams of vitamin C per orange. But, oranges can also negatively impact the environment through many of their processing and waste disposal practices. So we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of oranges?

Oranges have a moderately negative impact on the environment. They require a lot of farmland, are mostly grown in monoculture, and have relatively high pesticide and fertilizer usage. However, both their carbon and water footprints are only moderate.

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Oranges

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

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

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Oranges

The overall carbon footprint of oranges is high. The main factors that contribute to this are pollutants to the environment like pesticides, fertilizers, and plastic production, as well as longer growth times and irrigation. 

There are many things that oranges have going for them in terms of their environmental impact. For instance, they have very economical land usage and most of the US-sold ones are also produced in the country, therefore cutting down on transport times. However, there are still many things that contribute significantly to the environmental impact of oranges. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for orangesOranges have a very high yield yet still have a negative impact on the farmland. This is because they are typically farmed in a monoculture and take a long time to grow. Which has a significant negative impact on the environment.
Water footprint of orangesOranges have a moderate water footprint of about 60 inches of water per year. They require a medium amount of additional irrigation, yet have a high amount of water needed to clear their pesticide residues.
Agrochemical usage for orangesOranges have high agrochemical usage. They require a lot of pesticides and fertilizers, which are pollutants that negatively impact the environment, especially groundwater and wildlife.
Carbon footprint of orangesOranges have a moderate carbon footprint of around 0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound. Especially the usage of pesticides, mechanical harvesting processes, and low composting rates significantly contribute to the carbon footprint of oranges.
Waste generation of orangesOranges generate a high amount of waste. This is due both to their use of plastic packaging, as well as their low composting rates. This has a serious effect on their environmental impact.

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 you all the important aspects of oranges’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Oranges

Oranges have a very high yield yet still have a negative impact on the farmland. This is because they are typically farmed in a monoculture and take a long time to grow. Which has a significant negative impact on the environment.

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

Growing oranges has a lot of variables that contribute to their environmental impact. The amount of land they use, the way in which they grow (tree, vine, root, etc.), and the amount of time they take to grow will all contribute to their environmental impact. 

How do the land requirements of oranges impact their environmental footprint?

In short, especially the fact that oranges are grown in monocultures negatively impacts the environment.

What Is the Water Footprint of Oranges

Oranges have a moderate water footprint of about 60 inches of water per year. They require a medium amount of additional irrigation, yet have a high amount of water needed to clear their pesticide residues.

Oranges 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 angles to oranges’ water impact. 

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

In short, oranges have only moderate irrigation requirements, but high pesticide use, which tends to negatively impact the environment. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Oranges

Oranges have high agrochemical usage. They require a lot of pesticides and fertilizers, which are pollutants that negatively impact the environment, especially groundwater and wildlife.

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 oranges’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact. 

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

In short, pesticides and fertilizers have a lot of negative impacts on the environment, including affecting groundwater, which is then harmful to wildlife and soil.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Oranges

Oranges have a moderate carbon footprint of around 0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound. Especially the usage of pesticides, mechanical harvesting processes, and low composting rates significantly contribute to the carbon footprint of oranges.

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 oranges 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 oranges breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact. 

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

In short, oranges have a fairly average carbon footprint. And especially mechanization and pesticides emit significant amounts of carbon during the orange production process. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Oranges

Oranges generate a high amount of waste. This is to their use of plastic packaging as well as their low composting rates. Both have a significant negative impact on the environment.

When fruit waste, either packaging or organic materials, are 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 orange waste affects the environment. 

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

  • What is the packaging of oranges: Orange packaging mainly consists of cardboard and plastic netted bags. Plastic has devastating consequences on the environment, such as affecting ocean life, emitting greenhouse gasses in its creation, and creating toxic microplastics that get into groundwater and food. Cardboard, though better than plastic, still contributes to deforestation which also has a negative environmental impact. Orange packaging has a significant effect on their environmental impact. 
  • How is the packaging of oranges disposed of: Both cardboard and plastic can be recycled, but their recycling rates tell a different story. On one hand, you have cardboard, which has a very high recycling rate of 89%. Whereas, on the other hand, you have plastic, which has a recycling rate of around 9%. Therefore, depending on the packaging used, oranges can have a moderate to high environmental impact in this department. 
  • How are oranges disposed of: Orange peels are completely biodegradable. However, many end up in landfill, which takes up valuable space and releases methane, a greenhouse gas. And as only around 4% of food is composted, oranges are likely to be ending up in landfills. Pair that with the almost 4 million tons of citrus peels that are wasted every year and this component has a pretty significant environmental impact. 

In short, oranges have low recycling rates amongst plastic and low composting rates among food waste. Both oranges and their packaging ending up in landfills negatively impacts the environment.

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Orange Industry

Oranges have partaken in some farming practices that have harmed the environment substantially over the years. These include the destruction of the Amazon, damage to aquatic life from pesticides, and wildlife 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 oranges have fared throughout history. 

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

In short, oranges have a fairly negative track record when it comes to their historical environmental impact. In addition, many of the current harmful practices of growing oranges have existed for a long time.

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 oranges, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and orange-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 Oranges

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 oranges that would otherwise most negatively impact the environment:

  1. Buy local oranges: Make sure that the oranges you are buying are produced in the US. Furthermore, you should try to see where in the US they are being produced. Living in a northern state means you will have to buy out-of-state oranges, but you could try to match coasts. For example, by buying Florida oranges if you live on the east coast and California oranges if you live on the West. Reducing travel times as much as possible is essential to reducing your orange carbon footprint. 
  2. Compost and recycle waste: Another big component you have control over when consuming oranges is what you do with the waste. Instead of throwing out the peels, think about composting them in your backyard or with a city composting system. If you buy oranges in bags or boxes, then make sure you recycle them when you are done. This will help reduce their part in the landfill and, most importantly, the methane that can come from it. 
  3. Mitigate waste: Besides orange peels, a lot of oranges are simply wasted. Make sure that you always eat your oranges before they go bad, and ensure you don’t buy more than you can consume. 
  4. Reuse waste: Even better than composting, why not try to use the whole orange? There are actually a lot of uses for orange peels, including candy, beauty products, and cleaning products.
  5. Buy waste-free oranges: If you see oranges at the supermarket that are packaged heavily and ones that are packaging-free, choose the packaging-free option to help reduce some of that extra waste.

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

“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 oranges:

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 oranges. 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 oranges – 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 oranges, 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 oranges.

Final Thoughts

Oranges are a great treat, but as we have seen, they can do a lot of damage to the environment. The kinds of fertilizers and pesticides they use pollute the environment, their plastic packaging causes carbon emissions and further pollution, and many aspects of their growth uses a lot of resources, such as irrigation.

However, there are also a lot of things you can do to mitigate their environmental impact. Buying organic, cutting down on packaging, and offsetting your carbon footprint can help make your orange environmental impact positive, rather than negative!

Stay impactful,

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