What Is the Carbon Footprint of Apples? A Life-Cycle Analysis

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Apples? A Life-Cycle Analysis

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Dennis Kamprad

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Apples are one of the most popular fruits worldwide and in the US. They are known for their high levels of antioxidants, vitamin C, and soluble fiber, making them an essential part of a healthy diet. However, the environmental impact of apple production, particularly in terms of carbon emissions, is not widely discussed. So we had to ask; What is the carbon footprint of apples?

Apples have a relatively low carbon footprint of 0.24 kg (0.53 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce compared to other fruits. The main factors for these emissions are agriculture processes and packaging, with transportation playing a smaller role. 

The rest of this article will take a closer look at the life cycle of apples by examining the carbon emissions associated with each step of their journey. From growing and harvesting to packaging and transportation, you will learn how this fruit impacts the environment and what we can do to reduce and offset its carbon footprint. 

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Apples

The carbon footprint is one of the ways we measure the effects of our human-induced global climate change. It primarily focuses on the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with consumption, but also includes other emissions such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons, and is generally expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e).

“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 apples:

To understand the carbon footprint of apples, we must assess its life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials.

Here’s the Overall Carbon Footprint of Apples

The overall carbon footprint of apples is 0.24 kg (0.53 lbs) of CO2e per pound of apples. The main factors that contribute to the overall carbon footprint of apples are the CO2e emissions associated with fertilizer and pesticide use during the growing process. The harvesting stage also has a large impact because of energy-intensive steps such as cold storage and the fuel used by harvesting machines. 

Apples have a relatively high carbon footprint compared to many other types of fruit and veg because the growing and harvesting processes are quite labor intensive. However, apple trees also absorb carbon from the atmosphere which offsets the amount of CO2e produced. 

The carbon footprint of apples0.24 kg (0.53 lbs) of CO2e per pound of apples

So, let’s have a look at each stage of the LCA of apples!

The life-cycle stages of applesEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of applesThe carbon footprint of growing apples is dependent on the specific farming practices used. When grown locally and in season, apple growing has a relatively low carbon footprint because apple trees pull carbon from the atmosphere. However, the use of fertilizers, irrigation, and pesticides can dramatically increase the overall carbon footprint.
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of applesThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging apples is comparatively high because of the fuel used by machinery and trucks. In addition, energy-intensive steps such as cold storage for apples also contribute to the overall carbon footprint.
Transporting of applesThe mode of transport and the required travel distance are the most important factors when determining the carbon footprint of transporting apples. Most apples are grown in China, however, they are also grown locally, with Washington State being the largest producer in the US. The closer apples can be grown and shipped to their destination, the lower the carbon footprint associated with transporting them. 
End-of-life of applesThe carbon footprint of the end-of-life of apples is relatively low. It is primarily determined by how the apples and their packaging are disposed of. Moving away from reliance on plastic packaging will help to reduce the carbon footprint of this stage even further. 

These numbers give us a good idea of the overall carbon footprint of apples, but it’s important to note that this can vary based on many factors. Read on to find out more about the different elements that go into the carbon footprint of apples.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Apples

The carbon footprint of growing apples is dependent on the specific farming practices used. When grown locally and in season, apple growing has a relatively low carbon footprint because apple trees pull carbon from the atmosphere. However, the use of fertilizers, irrigation, and pesticides can dramatically increase the overall carbon footprint.

Growing apples has both a positive and negative impact on the environment. A single acre of apple trees (approximately 36 trees) absorbs between 10-20 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. However, apple growing also requires energy for irrigation, fertilizer production and application, pesticide and herbicide use. These farming methods contribute to the increased carbon footprint of apples. 

Which Factors Impact the Carbon Footprint of Growing Apples?

  • How do apples grow: Apples grow on trees which require regular irrigation, fertilization, and pest control. These contribute to the overall carbon footprint of apples. However, fully grown apple trees also absorb carbon from the air, offsetting their negative impact.
  • What is the growth duration of apples: Apple trees take 2-10 years to fully grow and bear fruit, depending on the type of rootstock, growing conditions, and whether they are grown from seed. Growing apples from seed can have a slightly larger carbon footprint than growing them from grafted trees. This is because grafted trees can begin producing fruit within a few years, while trees grown from seed may take several more years before they begin to bear fruit. The process of producing seedlings requires additional inputs of energy and resources compared to producing grafted trees. 
  • What is the land usage of apples: Apple trees take up a relatively large amount of land, especially if they are grown in orchards. An acre of land can take 60-80 full-size apple trees with spacing of up to 20 feet between each tree. This is less than the 108 orange trees that can fit into an acre and up to 250 trees per acre for lemons. The more land used for apple production, the larger its carbon footprint.
  • What is the water usage of apples: Although apples take a relatively low amount of water to produce, their water footprint also contributes to their carbon footprint. A single mature apple tree will require around 52 inches (130 cm) of water per year. However, storage and pumping of water for irrigation can increase the overall carbon footprint.
  • What is the pesticide and fertilizer usage of apples: The common use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers increases the carbon footprint of apples because they require energy to produce, transport, apply, and dispose of. The carbon footprint of apples also increases when farmers use too much fertilizer, as the excess can leach into waterways and eventually end up in the atmosphere.

In short, the carbon footprint of growing apples is fairly significant because of the amount of land needed to grow them and the regular use of pesticides. However, apple trees also absorb carbon which helps to offset the carbon emissions from this stage. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Harvesting, Processing, and Packaging Apples

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging apples is high because of the fuel used by machinery and trucks. In addition, energy-intensive steps such as cold storage for apples also contribute to the overall carbon footprint.

Harvesting, processing, and packaging apples all require energy and resources – both of which result in the emission of greenhouse gases. For example, the use of machinery and trucks for harvesting and transportation contributes to the amount of CO2e released into the atmosphere. In addition, energy-intensive steps such as cold storage for apples also add to the overall emissions. Understanding these processes will allow us to make informed decisions when it comes to their consumption and the environmental impact associated with them.

Which Factors Impact the Carbon Footprint of Harvesting, Processing, and Packaging Apples?

  • How apples are harvested: Apples are commonly picked by hand but mechanical harvesting is becoming increasingly popular. The use of machinery and trucks to harvest apples increases the amount of fuel used and therefore contributes to the overall carbon footprint. Hand-picking requires less energy and resources, making it an environmentally friendly alternative.
  • How apples are processed: Apples undergo several processing steps before reaching store shelves such as washing, sorting, and packing. For example, the apple packing process requires energy-intensive steps such as the use of machines to grade and cold storage for extended periods of time. In addition, using artificial preservatives and chemicals also increases the carbon footprint of apples.
  • How apples are packaged: Plastic bags are the most common way to package apples as they are cost-effective, lightweight, and carry large amounts. However, the production of plastic requires a lot of energy and takes hundreds of years to degrade, which increases the carbon footprint of apples. Alternatives such as cardboard boxes and expanded polystyrene trays will reduce the environmental impact of this stage.

In short, the carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging apples largely depends on how apples are harvested and processed. Packaging materials add to the environmental impact but can be minimized with the use of sustainable materials such as cardboard boxes. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Apples

The mode of transport and the required travel distance are the most important factors when determining the carbon footprint of transporting apples. Most apples are grown in China, however, they are also grown locally, with Washington State being the largest producer in the US. The closer apples can be grown and shipped to their destination, the lower the carbon footprint associated with transporting them. 

Where apples are grown and the distance needed to travel, as well as how they are transported, has a significant impact on the carbon footprint of apples. Transporting apples by air is more energy-intensive and will result in a higher carbon footprint than using trucks. Choosing local apples from close-by orchards and stores and making use of sustainable modes of transport can help to reduce the carbon footprint associated with transporting apples.

Which Factors Impact the Carbon Footprint of Transporting Apples?

  • Where apples are grown: Apples grown closer to the market they’re sold in don’t require as much transportation and fuel, leading to lower emissions. For example, apples imported from China to the US require a much longer journey than those grown in Washington state – with more fuel used, and thus higher emissions. 
  • How apples are transported: China is by far the largest producer of apples worldwide with almost 46 million metric tons of apples produced in the 2021/2022 crop year. These apples are shipped mostly by air to different countries around the world, which is the most energy-intensive mode of transport with the largest environmental impact. However, transporting apples by sea would release fewer carbon emissions and be more sustainable.

In short, the carbon footprint of transporting apples is mostly determined by how far the apples must travel to get to their destination. Most apples are grown in China so require fuel-heavy transportation methods to reach other countries such as the US. Locally grown apples will have a much lower carbon footprint. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of the End-of-Life of Apples

The carbon footprint of the end-of-life of apples is relatively low. It is primarily determined by how the apples and their packaging are disposed of. Moving away from a reliance on plastic packaging will help to reduce the carbon footprint of this stage even further. 

At the end of its life cycle, an apple’s carbon footprint is determined by what happens to apple waste and the packaging. Whether it ends up in a landfill, being composted, or recycled, all have a significant impact on the total carbon footprint of this fruit.

Which Factors Impact the Carbon Footprint of the End-of-Life of Apples?

  • How apples are disposed of: Apples are becoming increasingly popular with around 81 million metric tons produced worldwide, coming in second place to bananas. This means that most apples are consumed. However, some apples and apple cores are discarded, leading to a certain amount of wastage. If apples are discarded into landfills, they can generate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. On the other hand, composting reduces the amount of waste that is sent to landfills and helps reduce the carbon footprint of apples. 
  • How the packaging of apples are disposed of: In the US, the majority of fresh fruit packaging is plastic, accounting for 52% of sales in 2019. And 22% of all fresh fruit plastic packaging is used for apples. Plastic packaging for apples has a large impact on the carbon footprint of apples and will contribute to more CO2e emissions if not recycled.

In short, the carbon footprint of the end-of-life of apples mostly depends on how they are disposed of and how their packaging is reused or recycled. If apples are composted and the packaging is recycled, the total carbon footprint of apples can be significantly reduced.

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Apples Compare to Other Types of Food

Out of ten most consumed fruits, apples have the 7th highest carbon footprint, with lemons and peaches having the lowest carbon footprints. This makes apples a relatively sustainable choice compared to high-carbon options such as berries and bananas. 

FruitsCarbon Footprint per lbsCalories per lbsCarbon Footprint per Calories
Avocados0.85 kg (1.9 lb) of CO2e per pound of avocados725 calories per pound1.17kg (2.57lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of avocados 
Grapes0.64 kg (1.42 lbs) of CO2e per pound of grapes300 calories per pound2.13kg (4.7lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of grapes
Cantaloupes0.58kg (1.3lb) of CO2e per pound of cantaloupe154 calories per pound3.77kg (8.31lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of cantaloupes
Kiwis0.56kg (1.24lb) of CO2e per pound of kiwis277 calories per pound2.02kg (4.45lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of kiwis
Blueberries0.45kg (1lb) of CO2e per pound of blueberries256 calories per pound1.75kg (3.86lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of blueberries
Plums0.4 kg (0.88 lb) CO2e per pound of plums209 calories per pound1.91kg (4.21lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of plums
Strawberries0.39kg (0.88lb) of CO2e per pound of strawberries145 calories per pound2.69kg (5.93lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of strawberries
Pomegranates0.39kg (0.87lb) of CO2e per pound of pomegranates375 calories per pound1.04kg (2.29lb) of CO2e per pound of pomegranates
Figs0.3kg (0.68lb) of CO2e per pound of figs333 calories per pound0.9kg (1.98lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of figs
Papayas0.3kg (0.67lb) of CO2e per pound of papayas195 calories per pound1.54kg (3.4lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of papayas
Oranges0.3kg (0.66 lb) CO2e per pound of oranges213 calories per pound1.41kg (3.11lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of oranges
Dates0.27kg (0.6lb) of CO2e per pound of dates1,300 calories per pound0.21kg (0.46lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of dates
Apples0.24 kg (0.53 lb) of CO2e per pound of apples236 calories per pound1.02kg (2.25lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of apples
Pears0.23kg (0.52 lb) of CO2e per pound of pears259 calories per pound0.89kg (1.96lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of pears
Bananas0.21 kg (0.48 lb) of CO2e per pound of banana404 calories per pound0.52kg (1.15lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of bananas
Mangoes0.21 kg (0.46 lb) CO2e per pound of mangoes272 calories per pound0.77lb (1.7lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of mangoes
Cherries0.19kg (0.41 lb) of CO2e per pound of cherries227 calories per pound0.84kg (1.85lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of cherries
Limes0.18kg (0.39lb) of CO2e per pound of limes136 calories per pound1.32kg (2.91lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of limes
Peaches0.17kg (0.38lb) CO2e per pound of peaches176 calories per pound0.97kg (2.14lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of peaches
Apricots0.16kg (0.36lb) of CO2e per pound of apricots218 calories per pound0.73kg (1.61lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of apricots
Raspberries0.15kg (0.33lb) of CO2e per pound of raspberries240 calories per pound0.63kg (1.39lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of raspberries
Pineapples0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapple227 calories per pound0.4kg (0.88lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of pineapples
Lemons0.09kg (0.19lb) CO2e per pound of lemons132 calories per pound0.68kg (1.5lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of lemons
Grapefruit0.08kg (0.18lb) of CO2e per pound of grapefruit191 calories per pound0.42kg (0.93lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of grapefruits
Blackberries0.07kg (0.15lb) of CO2e per pound of blackberries195 calories per pound0.36kg (0.79lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of blackberries
Clementines0.06 kg (0.13 lb) CO2e per pound of clementines213 calories per pound0.28kg (0.62kg) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of clementines
Watermelons0.05kg (0.11 lb) of CO2e per pound of watermelon136 calories per pound0.37kg (0.82lb) of CO2e per 1,000 calories of watermelons

When considering the carbon footprint of food, it’s important to keep in mind that individual choices can make a difference. Opting for low-carbon alternatives such as watermelons, apples, and peaches can not only reduce our carbon footprint, but also help make for a more conscious consumer experience.

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Apples Compare to Other Types of Food in General

Apples generally have a low carbon footprint compared to other types of food, including fruit. Making them a sustainable choice as long as they are purchased locally. 

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), foods are often compared in terms of emissions per 1,000 kilocalories (as opposed to their weight in lbs or kg.

Illustration of greenhouse gas emissions per 1000 kilocalories
Our World in Data: Greenhouse Gas Emissions per 1,000 kilocalories

When it comes to reducing your carbon footprint in the kitchen, look to this table as a guide. Make the cleanest food choices and select those with the lowest emissions per 1,000 kilocalories. Apples, as well as other foods like potatoes, wheat & rye, groundnuts, and peas, should be your go-tos when searching for sustainable and GHG-friendly options. Also, try to avoid meat and opt for plant-based proteins, which are a great way to reduce your carbon footprint while still getting the needed nutrients. 

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

While making the best food choices based on GHG emissions per 1,000 kilocalories is an important part of reducing your carbon footprint, these measures are not enough to fully offset the emissions you create through food consumption. Therefore, it’s important to understand the different ways you can reduce your personal carbon footprint even further. 

There are a few easy purchasing choices you can make that will help reduce your personal carbon footprint. What’s more, there are also several easy steps you can take to offset your carbon footprint post-purchase.

How Can You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Shopping for Apples

As consumers, we can make a difference by being mindful of our shopping habits and reducing our carbon footprint when purchasing apples. Consider these ways when shopping for apples to lessen your impact on the environment:

  1. Avoid pre-packaged apples: Pre-packaged apples often come in plastic packaging that is difficult to recycle. Instead of pre-packaged apples, you can opt for loose apples, which reduce the amount of packaging waste. If you are unable to find loose apples, choose cardboard-based packaging as opposed to plastic-based packaging. 
  2. Buy locally grown apples: Buying local apples reduces the carbon emissions associated with transporting the food. Apples grown in the US typically have a lower carbon footprint than apples imported from China or other countries. Similarly, opt for apples grown in your region as opposed to cross-country apples. 
  3. Get creative with leftovers: Food waste is a problem because, when it ends up in landfills, it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Landfills are the largest human-related source of methane emissions in the U.S. By making apple sauce or apple pie with overripe apples, using core and peelings to make a compost bin, or searching for recipes that feature apples, you can help to mitigate the emissions associated with food decomposition in landfills.

Taking these measures can help to reduce your carbon footprint, but there are still more ways to further offset the impact of consuming apples.

How Can You Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

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 apples. 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 apples – 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 apples, 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 apples.

Final Thoughts

Apples are a fairly sustainable crop to grow and consume. While they do produce an unavoidable carbon footprint due to the resources used in production and transport, there are still ways to reduce the associated emissions. Being aware of the resources used in growing and transporting apples, as well as taking measures to reduce your personal carbon footprint (e.g., buying local apples, avoiding pre-packaged apples, getting creative with leftovers) can help you to reduce your own environmental impact when eating this popular fruit.

Stay impactful,



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