The Environmental Impact of Strawberries: From Farm to Table

The Environmental Impact of Strawberries: From Farm to Table

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:18 Minutes

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Strawberries are a tasty summer treat. Featured in everything from jams and smoothies to the iconic strawberry shortcake, these fruits are versatile. They are popular too, with the average American consuming around 8 pounds of strawberries every year. In terms of their health benefits, strawberries contain more vitamin C than oranges and significant protein and fiber. But strawberries can also significantly damage the environment throughout their production processes. So we had to ask: What is the environmental impact of strawberries?

Strawberries have a very negative environmental impact. This is because of their high irrigation requirements, excessive pesticide and nitrogen fertilizer application, use of plastic packaging, and high carbon footprint. Their environmental impact is high compared to other fruits. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Environmental Impact of Strawberries

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

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

Here’s the Overall Environmental Impact of Strawberries

The overall environmental impact of strawberries is very negative. They use high amounts of irrigation and pesticides, harmful nitrogen fertilizers, plastic packaging, and have a high carbon footprint. 

There are several things that strawberries do right in terms of environmental impact. For example, they have relatively economic land usage. However, there are many more things that strawberries need to significantly improve upon when it comes to their environmental impact. 

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

Key Assessment FactorsEnvironmental Impact
Land requirements for strawberriesStrawberries’ land requirements are fairly average. However, they are planted in monocultures so they tend to contribute to habitat loss. Therefore, strawberries have a moderately negative environmental impact.
Water footprint of strawberriesStrawberries have a fairly high water footprint of 50–75 inches of water per year. In addition, most of this water comes from irrigation.
Agrochemical usage for strawberriesStrawberries have high pesticide and fertilizer usage. The environmental destruction caused by pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers means that their environmental impact is very negative at this stage. 
Carbon footprint of strawberriesStrawberries have a fairly high carbon footprint of 0.39kg (0.88lb) of CO2e per pound of strawberries. This is mainly due to their irrigation requirements, high pesticide use, plastic packaging, and refrigeration during transportation from Mexico.
Waste generation of strawberriesStrawberries’ waste generation is high, both because of their plastic packaging and short shelf life. The fact that both of these things have low recycling and composting rates also contributes to their extremely negative environmental impact at this stage. 

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 strawberries’ environmental impact.

What Are the Land Requirements for Strawberries

Strawberries’ land requirements are fairly average. However, they are planted in monocultures so they tend to contribute to habitat loss. Therefore, strawberries have a moderately negative environmental impact.

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

Growing strawberries 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 strawberries impact their environmental footprint?

In short, strawberries’ use of monoculture farming and contribution to deforestation mean that their environmental impact is moderately negative at this stage. 

What Is the Water Footprint of Strawberries

Strawberries have a fairly high water footprint of 50–75 inches of water per year. In addition, most of this water comes from irrigation.

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 strawberries’ water impact.

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

In short, strawberries’ intense irrigation requirements and high pesticide/fertilizer use mean their water footprint is significant.

What Is the Agrochemical Usage for Strawberries

Strawberries have high pesticide and fertilizer usage. The environmental destruction caused by pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers means that their environmental impact is very negative at this stage. 

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 strawberries’ pesticide and fertilizer rates affect their environmental impact.

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

In short, strawberries’ incredibly high pesticide use and their need for nitrogen fertilizer make their environmental impact very negative at this stage. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Strawberries

Strawberries have a fairly high carbon footprint of 0.39kg (0.88lb) of CO2e per pound of strawberries. This is mainly due to their irrigation requirements, high pesticide use, plastic packaging, and refrigeration during 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 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 strawberries breaks down and contributes to their environmental impact. 

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

In short, the carbon footprint of strawberries is high, mainly due to high irrigation and pesticide requirements, plastic packaging, and refrigeration. 

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

What Is the Waste Generation of Strawberries

Strawberries’ waste generation is high, both because of their plastic packaging and short shelf life. The fact that both of these things have low recycling and composting rates also contributes to their extremely negative environmental impact at this stage. 

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 strawberry waste affects the environment. 

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

In short, strawberries’ use of plastic packaging, as well as their short shelf life make for a very negative environmental impact at this stage.

What Have Been Historical Environmental Issues Connected to the Strawberry Industry

Strawberries have partaken in some farming practices that have harmed the environment a lot over the years. These include destruction of habitats, use of monoculture farming, and pollution from nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides. 

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 strawberries have fared throughout history.

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

In short, strawberries don’t have the best track record when it comes to historical environmental practices. Their threats to protected wetlands, contribution to deforestation, and pollution of soil and water have all been harmful to the environment. 

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 strawberries, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and strawberries-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 Strawberries

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

  1. Buy strawberries without plastic packaging: Plastic packaging is one of the biggest contributors to strawberries’ environmental impact. A good way to reduce this is by buying strawberries from local farmer’s markets or low-waste supermarkets, which tend to use less packaging.
  2. Buy strawberries from ecological farms: To combat monoculture farming, consider buying strawberries from ecological farms. A growing movement in the farming community called ecological farming is rejecting monocultures in favor of more diverse planting. This can help with preserving wildlife, promoting pollination, and protecting groundwater, which are some of the worst consequences of monocultures. 
  3. Buy local strawberries: One of the major contributors to strawberries’ carbon footprint, and thus environmental impact, is their transportation from Mexico. While most strawberries consumed in the US are grown in Mexico, there are still a lot of domestic strawberry farms, especially in California. If you make a point of buying American-grown strawberries, you will be greatly reducing the emissions from transportation, which are very harmful to the environment. 
  4. Compost and recycle: If you do buy strawberries with packaging, then make sure that you dispose of it properly. Recycling all plastic packaging and composting all food waste will help you to reduce the waste disposal side of strawberries’ environmental impact. If you don’t have a city-wide composting service, consider creating your own in your backyard!
  5. Eat strawberries as soon as you buy them: The low shelf life of strawberries means that there’s no time to waste once you’ve bought them. If you are planning to eat strawberries, consider buying them as-needed, rather than including them in your weekly shop. This way, you will reduce the risk of forgetting about them at the back of the fridge and make sure that you eat them before they go bad. 

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

“Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gases 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 strawberries:

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 strawberries. 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 strawberries – 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 strawberries, 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 strawberries.

Final Thoughts

Strawberries might be a delicious and common fruit, but they are also big offenders when it comes to environmental impact. They use a lot of resources, such as fertilizers, irrigation, and pesticides to create, are planted in monocultures, and use plastic packaging, to name a few factors. But, luckily, there are efforts being made to improve strawberry agriculture’s effect on the environment. You as the consumer can also take part in composting, recycling, and other waste reduction initiatives to help reduce strawberries’ environmental impact!

Stay impactful,

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