The Environmental Impact of Oranges: From Farm to Table
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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. 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. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you. 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. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you). 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. 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,
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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.
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.
First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.
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.
When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).
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.
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.
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:
- Land requirements: Large parts of the world that were once covered by forests and wildlands are now used for agriculture. 10 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually and 50% of the world’s habitable land is now used for agriculture. This loss of natural habitat has been the main driver for reducing the world’s biodiversity.
- Water footprint: 70% of global freshwater is now used for agricultural purposes. By assessing the water footprint of a particular food, we can determine how our limited freshwater resources are being consumed and polluted.
- Pesticide and fertilizer usage: Pesticides and fertilizers provide a range of agricultural benefits. However, numerous studies link pesticides and fertilizers to serious effects on human health, along with disruptions to vital ecosystems and the spread of aquatic dead zones.
- Carbon footprint: The carbon footprint is one of the ways we measure the effects of our human-induced global climate change. Today, food production accounts for over a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions.
- Waste generation: Food and its packaging account for almost 45% of the materials landfilled in the US alone. And packaging sent to landfills, especially when made from plastics, does not degrade quickly or, in some cases, at all.
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 Factors||Environmental Impact|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|Waste generation of oranges||Oranges 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.
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?
- What is the land usage of oranges: Oranges yield about 40–50 tons per hectare. This is a very high land usage compared to other fruits. For example, watermelons only yield around 2–3 tons per hectare. In general, the land usage of oranges doesn’t contribute significantly to their environmental impact.
- Where and how are oranges grown: Oranges are mainly grown in Brazil on a global scale, but the majority of US-consumed oranges are grown domestically, mainly in Florida. They are grown on trees, and trees have natural carbon-sequestering properties that effectively suck carbon out of the air and store it in the plant. Citrus trees, like orange trees, however, tend to be planted in monoculture farms. These kinds of farms reduce biodiversity and soil microbes, which has a major impact on the environment.
- How does the orange industry affect the loss of habitable land: Brazil’s rainforests have been particularly vulnerable to the orange trade. Fruit farming and other agriculture cause severe deforestation within the rainforest, which is inhabited by people and animals alike. Many indigenous Amazon groups have filed lawsuits against agricultural companies for the destruction of their land.
- How does the orange industry affect wildlife and biodiversity: Orange farms are monocultures, leading to deforestation and habitat loss as a direct consequence. This destruction of the Amazon and other forests leads to a loss in biodiversity, with a significant negative impact on wildlife and the environment at large.
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?
- What is the overall water usage of oranges: One orange tree consumes an average of 75 gallons of water per day or around 60 inches of water per year. This usage is somewhat high for fruits, but is actually 20% less than other major citrus fruits, like grapefruits and oranges. Oranges have fairly moderate water usage, especially for a citrus tree.
- What is the green water footprint of oranges: The green water footprint is the amount of water from precipitation stored in the soil and used by plants for growth. Most oranges grow in Florida, where it rains around 54 inches per year. As oranges require about 60 inches of water per year, this means that theoretically only need 6 or so additional inches outside of green water would be required to cover their needs.
- What is the blue water footprint of oranges: The blue water footprint is the amount of water sourced from surface (such as rivers or lakes) or groundwater resources. Just above, we mentioned that green water could theoretically cover nearly all of oranges’ 60 inches of water per year requirements. However, those water requirements are not evenly distributed throughout the year. During summer, oranges’ water requirements are much higher, needing around 135 gallons per day (as opposed to a 75 gallons daily average for 60 inches per year). Meaning that this extra irrigation needed during summer drives up oranges’ overall blue water footprint.
- What is the gray water footprint of oranges: The gray water footprint is the amount of freshwater required to clean up water pollution to meet certain quality standards. Essentially, it’s the amount of water needed to make polluted water clean enough to be safe and healthy for humans and the environment. Oranges have some of the highest pesticide and fungicide rates among fruits. These chemicals can be very bad for groundwater, and oranges have a significant gray water footprint.
- How does the orange industry affect freshwater and ocean pollution: Pesticides and fertilizers used in the orange production process greatly affect groundwater. If this pollution is not cleaned up, it can get into freshwater sources and affect aquatic life. Oranges also use plastic in their packaging, which has been proven to have devastating effects on ocean life.
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?
- What is the pesticide usage of oranges: Pesticides not only have adverse effects on groundwater, but they can also impact wildlife, insect populations, and soil microbes. Oranges have a high pesticide usage, making this stage is a major contributor to their environmental impact.
- What is the fertilizer usage of oranges: Oranges are typically fertilized with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and lime. And especially nitrogen in particular has a high environmental impact, being a major pollutant.
- Are there any known issues connected to the agrochemical usage for oranges: There are certain fungicides that are used on oranges that are known to have hormone-disrupting qualities. They are also known carcinogens which can be very harmful to humans and animals alike.
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.
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?
- What is the overall carbon footprint of oranges: The overall carbon footprint of oranges is around 0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound of oranges. This means that every pound of oranges emits 0.3kg of carbon or other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. This is a fairly average carbon footprint among fruits.
- What are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of oranges: The main contributors to the carbon footprint of oranges are irrigation requirements, pesticide use, energy from mechanized harvesting, and low composting rates (the latter leading to methane-emitting food waste in landfills).
- Which life-cycle stage of oranges has the highest carbon footprint: The harvesting, processing, and packaging of oranges contribute the most to their carbon footprint. This is because oranges are mechanically harvested and use significant cardboard packaging.
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?
- Which lands have been damaged because of orange production: Brazil is one of the world’s leading orange producers. When the orange industry turned toward Brazil in the 1970s, many of the fields were former coffee farms, rather than rainforest. However, because of demand, orange farms have still destroyed significant amounts of the Amazon rainforest. Orange farming has created further damage to the rainforest due to land erosion caused by their growth.
- Which wildlife species have been negatively impacted or displaced because of orange production: Wildlife is affected by several byproducts of the orange industry. Over the years, many native rainforest species have experienced habitat loss due to orange farming deforestation. Wildlife has also been affected by oranges’ extreme pesticide use, which can be poisonous to many species, starting with insects and worms and making its way up the food chain to birds and larger animals.
- Which water/land sources have been contaminated because of orange production: Because oranges historically have very high pesticide rates, they have contaminated a lot of groundwater. Aquatic life, including fish, other sea creatures, and aquatic plants, have all suffered because of orange pesticide use.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- This includes GHG emissions from producing the products that we use and foods that we eat (e.g., power plants, factories or farms, and landfills)
- GHG emissions from fuel that we burn directly or indirectly (e.g., logistics and transportation, cooling or heating facilities),
- as well as the GHG emissions attributed to how we consume these products and foods.
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.
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!
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