The Environmental Impact of Pears: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Pears: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:18 Minutes

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In an average year, over 25,000 tons of pears are consumed globally, making them an immensely popular fruit. They can be used in anything from elegant French pastries (Tarte Bourdaloue, anyone?) to delicious juices. But there are also aspects of the pear production process that might be harmful to the environment. So, we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of pears?

Pears have a moderately negative environmental impact. This is mainly because they use nitrogen fertilizer, styrofoam packaging, monoculture farming, and significant pesticides. However, they require little irrigation and sequester carbon well. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Pears

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

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

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Pears

The overall environmental impact of pears is moderately negative. The main factors that contribute to this are monoculture farming, pesticide usage, nitrogen fertilizer, and styrofoam packaging. 

There are some positive aspects of pear production, however. For example, they sequester carbon very well and require no irrigation. However, they still cause a lot of damage in many other areas. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for pearsPears’ land requirements are fairly low. However, they use monoculture farming and contribute to erosion, which means their environmental impact is moderately negative at this stage. 
Water footprint of pearsPears have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches per year. However, because of where they grow, they don’t need to be irrigated. 
Agrochemical usage for pearsPears’ agrochemical usage is very high. This is worsened by the particularly damaging qualities of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers.
Carbon footprint of pearsPears have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.23kg (0.52 lbs) of CO2e per pound of pears. This is mainly due to their high pesticide use, mechanized processing, intensive packaging needs, and poor recycling rates. Their carbon footprint is average compared to other fruits. 
Waste generation of pearsPears’ waste generation is high. The very low recycling rates of styrofoam and low composting rates of food waste mean pears’ waste generation has a very negative 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 to you all the important aspects of pears’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Pears

Pears’ land requirements are fairly low. However, they use monoculture farming and contribute to erosion, which means their environmental impact is moderately negative at this stage. 

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

Growing pears 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 pears impact their environmental footprint?

  • How does the growing of pears affect soil fertility and erosion: Pear and other fruit trees can be prone to soil erosion, which is why many soil preservation methods have been undertaken by pear farmers. Soil erosion can severely damage the lands that they are farmed on, and thus pears have a highly negative environmental impact at this stage. 
  • How does the pear industry affect the loss of habitable land: The US produces roughly 700,000 tons of pears every year, which takes up roughly 14,000 hectares of land. This is a significant amount of land on the West Coast, and so pear land use contributes moderately to its environmental impact. 
  • How does the pear industry affect wildlife and biodiversity: Monocultures are very damaging to biodiversity. They limit the growth of many important soil microbes and deplete pollinators of the diverse nutrients they need to thrive. This disrupts the whole ecosystem and thus pears cause a lot of environmental harm.

In short, pears’ contribution to soil erosion and their use of monoculture farming means that their environmental impact is moderately negative at this stage. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Pears

Pears have a moderate water requirement of 50 inches per year. However, because of where they grow, they don’t need to be irrigated. 

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 of pears’ water impact.

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

In short, pears’ lack of irrigation requirements means they don’t put a strain on water resources. However, their use of pesticides can be harmful to water sources. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Pears

Pears’ agrochemical usage is very high. This is worsened by the particularly damaging qualities of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers. 

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 pears’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact.

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

In short, pears’ use of both significant pesticides, as well as harmful fertilizers like nitrogen and phosphorus means that their negative environmental impact is significant at this stage. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Pears

Pears have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.23kg (0.52 lbs) of CO2e per pound of pears. This is mainly due to their high pesticide use, mechanized processing, intensive packaging needs, and poor recycling rates. Their carbon footprint is average compared to other fruits. 

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 strawberries 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 pears breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact.

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

  • What is the overall carbon footprint of pears: The overall carbon footprint of pears is 0.23kg (0.52 lbs) of CO2e per pound of pears. This means that for every pound of pears produced, 0.23kg of carbon is released into the atmosphere. This is an average carbon footprint among fruits. 
  • What are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of pears: The main factors that contribute to pears’ carbon footprint are pesticide usage, styrofoam packaging, mechanized processing, and refrigerated transport
  • Which life-cycle stage of pears has the highest carbon footprint: The portion of pears’ life cycle with the highest carbon footprint is processing and packaging. This is because this stage involves both mechanization and manufacturing of styrofoam packaging. 

In short, though pears’ carbon footprint is fairly average, there are still many parts of their manufacturing process that emit a lot of carbon. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Pears

Pears’ waste generation is high. The very low recycling rates of styrofoam and low composting rates of food waste mean pears’ waste generation has a very negative environmental impact. 

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 pears’ waste affects the environment.

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

  • What is the packaging of pears: Pears are often packaged in sectioned cardboard boxes, sometimes with individual styrofoam pockets around each pear, to keep them safe. Both cardboard and styrofoam have negative environmental impacts during their manufacturing process. Cardboard contributes heavily to deforestation and styrofoam has a history of hazardous waste runoff. Because of using these packaging materials, they have a very negative environmental impact at this stage. 
  • How is the packaging of pears disposed of: Cardboard has a very high recycling rate at 89%. Styrofoam, however, has a less than 1% recycling rate, which means that a huge portion of pear packaging is ending up in landfills. Landfills cause significant environmental damage, including land clearance and chemical pollution. Furthermore, styrofoam can take up to 500 years to decompose. Blueberries’ use of plastic packaging thus has a very negative environmental impact.
  • How are pears disposed of: Pears have cores that cannot be eaten. They can theoretically be recycled, but in practice, only 4% of food waste is actually composted. Furthermore, food waste is particularly harmful to the environment as it releases a greenhouse gas called methane when it is put in landfills. Pears’ food waste thus has a fairly negative environmental impact. 

In short, pears’ use of styrofoam packaging, as well as their low composting rates mean that this stage has a very negative environmental impact. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Pear Industry

The pear industry has historically caused a moderate amount of environmental damage. This is mainly due to the fact that they have contributed heavily to deforestation and used a significant amount of pesticides. 

All fruits have had a complex journey 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 pears have fared throughout history. 

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

In short, pears’ historical use of pesticides, as well as their contribution to deforestation in the Pacific Northwest means they have caused moderate environmental damage over the years. 

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 pears, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and pear-related carbon emissions, which will 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 Pears

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 pears that would otherwise most negatively impact the environment:

  1. Purchase organic pears: One of the biggest contributors to pears’ environmental impact is their excessive pesticide use. Organic farms generally avoid high amounts of chemical pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers and so they are good to support if you want to reduce your pesticide and fertilizer impact. 
  2. Dispose of organic and packaging waste responsibly: Much of the waste produced by pears ends up in landfills. The good news is that you have significant control over that as the consumer. Try to compost any organic waste that you can. If your city doesn’t have a composting system, you can try creating your own! Likewise, make sure to recycle any plastic and attempt to recycle styrofoam, if possible. Taking these measures will mean that far less of your pear waste will end up in landfills, mitigating much of the damage that landfills can cause. 
  3. Avoid styrofoam: One of the biggest issues with pear waste is how difficult it is to recycle styrofoam. Buying pears that are loose or in cardboard only will help reduce that harmful styrofoam waste. Often, pears from places like farmer’s markets will have less packaging.

Following some of these methods can really help you cut down on your environmental impact of eating pears. 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 pears 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 industries like pears agriculture.

In the table below are some of the best environmental charities that work in the areas where pears 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

Though it is helpful to reduce the environmental impact of your personal pears 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 pears!

“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 pears:

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 pears. 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 pears – 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 pears, 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 with, e.g., eating pears.

Final Thoughts

Pears are certainly not the best fruit for the environment. Many of their agricultural practices have a very negative impact on the environment, such as their use of styrofoam packaging and excessive pesticides. However, if you take steps to reduce these things, such as by shopping for organic pears or disposing of packaging responsibly, you can mitigate your impact. Supporting environmental organizations can be another way to ensure you’re a responsible pear consumer!

Stay impactful,

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