The Environmental Impact of Pineapples: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Pineapples: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

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Pineapples are a booming industry, with 30 million tons produced every single year. They’re nutritious too, as a cancer-fighting fruit loaded with antioxidants and Vitamin C. Furthermore, this fruit has been a historical symbol of hospitality and welcome, especially in South America. But there are also plenty of ways that the pineapple industry can harm the environment. So we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of pineapples?

Pineapples have a minimally negative environmental impact. The main factors that cause environmental damage are plastic packaging, high pesticide rates, use of nitrogen fertilizer, monoculture farming, and low composting statistics. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Pineapples

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

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

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Pineapples

The overall environmental impact of pineapples is minimally negative. Contributing factors include their high agrochemical use, monoculture farming, use of plastic packaging, and low composting rates. 

Pineapples do a lot of things right when it comes to their environmental impact. They have dense farming practices, a low carbon footprint, and don’t require significant irrigation. However, they can still cause a lot of environmental damage in a lot of ways. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for pineapplesPineapples’ land requirements are very low. But, they use monoculture growth techniques which significantly worsens their effect on the environment. 
Water footprint of pineapplesPineapples have a moderate water footprint of 50 inches per year. However, their pesticide usage means that excess water is needed to clean up harmful residue. 
Agrochemical usage for pineapplesPineapples use a significant amount of harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Therefore, their environmental impact is very negative at this stage. 
Carbon footprint of pineapplesPineapples have a very low carbon footprint of 0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapples. Most of these emissions come from their high pesticide use, transportation emissions (e.g., to get them from Costa Rica to the US), and their low composting rates.
Waste generation of pineapplesPineapples’ waste generation is high. This is mainly because they use plastic packaging and their organic waste isn’t often composted.

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 pineapples’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Pineapples

Pineapples’ land requirements are very low. But, they use monoculture growth techniques which significantly worsen their effect on the environment. 

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

Growing pineapples 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 pineapples impact their environmental footprint?

In short, pineapples don’t require too much land to grow. However, because they are grown in monocultures, they still have a negative impact on the environment. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Pineapples

Pineapples have a moderate water footprint of 50 inches per year. However, their pesticide usage means that excess water is needed to clean up harmful residue. 

Pineapples 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 of pineapples’ water impact. 

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

In short, pineapples require a moderate amount of water and almost no irrigation. However, their high pesticide and harmful fertilizer rates mean that they require a significant amount of water to clear pesticide residues. 

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Pineapples

Pineapples use a significant amount of harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Therefore, their environmental impact is very negative 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 pineapples’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact. 

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

In short, pineapples’ use of both excessive pesticides and harmful nitrogen fertilizers means that they have a very negative agrochemical environmental impact. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Pineapples

Pineapples have a very low carbon footprint of 0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapples. Most of these emissions come from their high pesticide use, transportation emissions (e.g., to get them from Costa Rica to the US), and their 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 pineapples 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 pineapples breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact. 

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

In short, pineapples have a very low carbon footprint. However, there are still several factors that generate emissions, such as refrigeration, pesticides, and transport. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Pineapples

Pineapples’ waste generation is high. This is mainly because they use plastic packaging and their organic waste isn’t often composted. 

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 pineapple waste affects the environment. 

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

In short, the use of plastic packaging and low compost rates amongst pineapples means that their environmental impact here is fairly negative. 

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Pineapple Industry

Pineapples have partaken in some farming practices that have harmed the environment substantially over the years. These include destruction to Costa Rican rainforests and wetlands, chemical runoffs getting into waterways, 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 pineapples have fared throughout history.

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

  • Which lands have been damaged because of pineapple production: The pineapple industry has been particularly harmful to the rainforests of Costa Rica, which have been heavily deforested to make way for pineapple farming. Between 1970 and 2020, pineapple production grew by 400%. As a result, a considerable amount of land had to be cleared during this period. 
  • Which wildlife species have been negatively impacted or displaced because of pineapple production: Deforestation in Costa Rica has been devastating to wildlife. Many species consider this rainforest their home and have been severely damaged by deforestation and chemical pollution caused by the pineapples industry. One case in 2011 found that pineapple plantations were illegally destroying wetlands, burning forests, and impeding on wildlife preserve land. 
  • Which water/land sources have been contaminated because of pineapple production: The heavy rainfall of Costa Rica might be beneficial for irrigation, but it also means that the agrochemicals used in pineapple farming are washed into water sources. Rivers, groundwater, and other waterways all over Costa Rica have been impacted by these runoff chemicals, regardless of whether they were immediately near a plantation. Nitrogen fertilizer in particular promotes invasive algae growth, which can be devastating to marine life. 

In short, pineapples have affected the environment considerably over the years, especially in Costa Rica. Wildlife, waterways, and rainforests have all been harmed because of pineapple production. 

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 pineapples, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and pineapple-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 Pineapples

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

  1. Buy organic pineapples: Pesticides are a major contributor to pineapples’ negative environmental impact. Organic farms, however, don’t use chemicals like pesticides and so their impact on the environment is much smaller in that department. Consequences like groundwater and soil pollution, as well as biodiversity loss can be mitigated by supporting organic pineapple farms. 
  2. Buy local pineapples: Transporting pineapples from Costa Rica has a huge impact on the environment. Fuel emissions contribute significantly to pineapples’ carbon footprint, which affects the environment greatly. Buying pineapples closer to home will help minimize these costs. 
  3. Support sustainable pineapple farming efforts: The pineapple industry has wreaked havoc on the landscape of Costa Rica. However, there are farms that have made commitments to minimize their environmental impact through sustainable farming practices. Supporting these farms can help you to reduce your impact on the environment through the pineapple industry. 
  4. Compost your pineapple waste: Methane and landfill destruction from the pineapple industry are very bad for the environment. You can combat this by making sure that you compost all your pineapple waste. If your city doesn’t have a municipal composting service then you can make one yourself

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

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 pineapples:

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 pineapples. 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 pineapples – 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 pineapples, 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 pineapples.

Final Thoughts

Pineapples may be one of the less impactful fruits out there in terms of carbon footprint, but they can still cause significant environmental destruction. They have impacted wildlife through deforestation and monoculture farming, waterways through agrochemical use, and the air through nitrogen fertilizers and carbon emissions. However, by taking steps, such as supporting organic pineapple farms and composting your pineapple waste, you can mitigate some of these negative impacts.

Stay impactful,

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