What Is the Carbon Footprint of Avocados? A Life-Cycle Analysis
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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.
Anyone who is a fan of spicy guacamole or avocado toast knows that avocados are some of the most delicious fruits on the planet. Not only that, but they are packed with nutrients like Vitamin C+E, as well as magnesium and potassium, making them as delicious as they are nutritious. However, there has been a lot of talk recently about their impact on the planet, which might be higher than you think. So we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of avocados?
Avocados have a high carbon footprint at around 0.85kg (1.9lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados. The main reason for this is transportation emissions, since most avocados consumed in the United States are imported. Deforestation, waste management, and water consumption are also major factors.
In this article, we will walk you through the carbon footprint of an avocado from the beginning to the end of its life cycle. You will learn the different ways in which avocados affect the planet and learn some methods for offsetting their effects.
Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Avocados
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 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 avocados:
- 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.
To understand the carbon footprint of avocados, 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 Avocados
The overall carbon footprint of avocados is around 0.85 kg (1.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados. This high number can mostly be attributed to the long transportation process of avocados and because avocado waste still ends up in landfill despite the fact that most of it can be composted.
Avocados are some of the most versatile and popular foods on the market today. However, they have a relatively high carbon footprint compared to other fruits and veg. If you’re a climate-conscious eater, you should be aware of the effect avocados have on the planet.
|The carbon footprint of avocados||0.85 kg (1.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados|
So, let’s have a look at each stage of the LCA of avocados!
|The life-cycle stages of avocados||Each stage’s carbon footprint|
|Growing of avocados||Growing avocados has a relatively high carbon footprint. The biggest contributors from a growing perspective are water use and the land clearing required to build new farms.|
|Harvesting, processing, and packaging of avocados||Harvesting, processing, and packaging have the lowest impact on the list for avocado carbon emissions because avocados are hand-picked and a lot of the packaging used is recyclable. However, a complete move away from plastic bags and styrofoam trays would reduce the carbon impact even further.|
|Transporting of avocados||Transportation is one of the worst offenders in terms of the overall avocado carbon footprint, depending on where your avocados come from. Most of the world’s avocados are grown in Mexico, followed by California. However, they are also grown in parts of South Africa and Asia. They are usually transported in refrigerated trucks which release CO2 emissions. The more local the source of your avocados the lower the carbon footprint will be.|
|End-of-life of avocados||The end-of-life carbon footprint of avocados can be significant. However, the relative impact completely depends on how waste is disposed of. Most avocado waste, including skins, and pits, technically can be composted, but in practice typically goes into landfills, which is why the impact is so high.|
So, we know the numbers for the whole lifecycle, but the story is a lot more complicated than that. So, let’s get into the specific areas in which avocados contribute to carbon emissions!
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Avocados
Growing avocados has a relatively high carbon footprint. The biggest contributors from a growing perspective are water use and land clearing required to build new farms.
The main contributors to the carbon footprint of growing avocados are the amount of rainfall in the region in which they are grown, the density of the farm, and the way that land is sourced. However, the sustainable avocado farm industry is slowly growing which would decrease the overall carbon footprint of avocados.
Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing avocados?
- How do avocados grow: Avocados grow on small trees in orchards. The trees consume resources, but they also capture carbon and can support biodiversity. It is possible to run a completely sustainable avocado farm if the avocado trees are storing as much carbon equivalent as the water and energy they are producing. However, this is still a relatively new concept.
- What is the growth duration of avocados: Avocados take quite a long time to mature. Once their flowers are pollinated, the actual fruit won’t appear for another 6–7 months. Luckily, however, avocados don’t ripen on the vine, only after being picked. So waste is minimal at this stage.
- What is the land usage of avocados: Avocado farms traditionally have an average growing rate of 145 avocado trees per acre. However, due to high demand, intensive farming in Michoacan, Mexico, has increased rapidly, causing an average deforestation rate of 14,800-19,800 acres every year. As a result, avocado farms now average 430 trees per acre. The amount of carbon absorbed by these trees helps to lower the carbon footprint, however, the deforestation problem is a huge concern.
- What is the water usage of avocados: Avocados have particularly short roots, so their ability to seek out water is relatively weak. One avocado tree needs around 50 inches of rain per year, despite California receiving a meager 22.9 inches and Mexico receiving 28.5 inches. This means that over half of the water avocados consume is through irrigation. Irrigation increases its carbon footprint, not just because it requires energy to transport the water.
- What is the pesticide and fertilizer usage of avocados: Avocados have historically had few pests and so pesticide use was rare. However, pesticide usage has ramped up since the discovery of invasive avocado thrips in 1996. Avocados are also susceptible to nutrient deficiencies like nitrogen, iron, and zinc, so farmers often supply these fertilizers to ensure avocados grow to their full potential. This increases the carbon footprint of avocados at this stage, as fertilizers generally produce a high amount of GHG emissions.
The growing process of avocados might have some upsides, like the ability of avocado trees to pull carbon from the air. However, an increase in demand has meant that avocado farming is starting to cause biodiversity loss and excessive water consumption.
In short, the carbon footprint of the growing state of avocados is relatively high because of the intensive farming methods used in recent years. These can put wildlife preserves at risk, especially in Mexico where 90% of all US avocados are grown.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Harvesting, Processing, and Packaging Avocados
Harvesting, processing, and packaging have the lowest impact on the list for avocado carbon emissions because avocados are hand-picked and a lot of the packaging used is recyclable. However, a complete move away from plastic bags and styrofoam trays would reduce the carbon impact even further.
When avocados are ripe, they have a long window to be picked. Picking is usually done by hand, processing done in a factory conveyor belt, and packaging done minimally. These factors all contribute to the overall carbon footprint.
Which factors impact the carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging avocados?
- How are avocados harvested: Avocados are harvested by hand, which means that there is no inherent carbon footprint compared with vegetables that are machine-picked, such as potatoes and carrots. Thus, picking doesn’t significantly contribute to an avocado’s carbon footprint.
- How are avocados processed: Avocado processing generally consists of conveyor-based sorting. There is electricity and refrigeration involved at this stage, meaning that there is some amount of carbon footprint due to the energy consumed.
- How are avocados packaged: Avocados are mainly packaged in cardboard boxes and sometimes plastic bags. The boxes sometimes contain styrofoam trays to fit the avocados more snugly. This production and use of single-use materials causes an increase in the overall carbon footprint.
Avocados don’t use a lot of carbon when they’re being harvested and packaged, but the process could be made more sustainable by reduced single-use packaging.
In short, the main concerns for this stage of avocado production on the overall carbon footprint are excess waste from cardboard and plastic bags, as well as the energy needed for refrigeration.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Avocados
Transportation is one of the worst offenders in terms of the overall avocado carbon footprint, depending on where your avocados come from. Most of the world’s avocados are grown in Mexico, followed by California. However, they are also grown in parts of South Africa and Asia. They are usually transported in refrigerated trucks which release CO2 emissions. The more local the source of your avocados the lower the carbon footprint will be.
When it comes to avocado transportation, the use of carbon-emitting vehicles is the biggest concern. The type of energy consumed matters (ie. whether engines are electric or combustion) but the distance between growth and consumption is the most important factor. Let’s have a look at the transportation footprint of avocados!
Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting avocados?
- Where are avocados grown: 90% of avocados grown in the US come from California. However, most avocados that are actually consumed in the US are imported, usually from Mexico. This number is now over 90%, up from 40% 20 years ago. Most Mexican avocados are grown in the state of Michoacan, just west of Mexico city. So, they still need to travel a fair distance to reach many US states.
- How are avocados transported: The vast majority of avocados are driven in refrigerated trucks, which consume a lot of energy and emit a lot of carbon. However, the carbon footprint will be different for you depending on your state. For example, if you live in Houston, the average truck journey from Michoacan would emit around 430 kg (948 lbs) of carbon per truck, whereas if you live in Boston, it would be over 1,300 kg (2,866 lbs) per truck.
Locally bought avocados will have a relatively low carbon footprint. However, this can increase dramatically if you live further away from avocado farms because of the use of refrigerated trucks for transport that emit large amounts of CO2e.
In short, transportation contributes significantly to the overall carbon footprint of avocados, especially because so few avocados in the US are domestically-produced and need to be imported.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of the End-of-Life of Avocados
The end-of-life carbon footprint of avocados can be significant. However, the relative impact completely depends on how waste is disposed of. Most avocado waste, including skins, and pits, technically can be composted, but in practice typically goes into landfills, which is why the impact is so high.
Even though much avocado waste is organic, it can be very harmful if it goes into landfills.
Which factors impact the carbon footprint of the end-of-life of avocados?
- How are avocados disposed of: Unfortunately, due to their thick peels and large pits, people tend to dispose of large parts of the avocado plant. There are also a lot of avocados that go bad or are damaged during the transportation, selling, and even consumption process. Unfortunately, less than a third of Americans have access to composting services, meaning that the vast majority of avocado waste is going to landfills.
- How is the packaging of avocados disposed of: Avocados that come in packaging like plastic wrap are often not disposed of properly because of the lack of access to composting services. So, it ends up in landfill, is incinerated, or becomes plastic pollution. A report by the food waste charity WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) calls on retailers to sell loose produce, remove date labels, and provide storage advice when selling avocado and other fresh produce, to reduce the carbon footprint.
Avocado waste could be disposed of more efficiently, but unfortunately, due to lack of access to and participation in composting programs, most avocado waste goes into the landfill.
In short, food waste is a huge problem in the US, and the amount avocados produced isn’t helping. Most avocado waste goes into landfills, which significantly raises their carbon footprint.
How Does the Carbon Footprint of Avocados Compare to Other Types of Food
Avocados have one of the highest carbon footprint compared to the most popular fruits. However, the carbon footprint of avocados is not as high as animal-based foods.
Avocados have a relatively high carbon footprint. However, it can be hard to envision the relative carbon footprint of avocados without looking at the carbon footprints of some other common fruits. Here, we will look how avocados compare to other fruits in terms of their carbon footprint.
How Does the Carbon Footprint of Avocados Compare to Other Types of Fruits
Though fruits are generally low in carbon emissions, this is unfortunately not the case for avocados. Avocados are the fruits with some of the highest CO2e emissions, a multiple of the carbon footprint of most other popular fruits. This also makes them a generally less sustainable fruit than virtually all other ones.
Yet, the carbon footprint of avocados can be reduced if you take into consideration where you source them from. For example, a locally sourced avocado will have a lower carbon footprint than a kiwi from New Zealand. By reducing transportation carbon emissions, you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint when buying avocados.
|Avocados||0.85 kg (1.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados|
|Berries||0.69 kg (1.52 lbs) of CO2e per pound of berries|
|Kiwi||0.4 kg (0.89 lb) of CO2e per pound of kiwis|
|Oranges||0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound of oranges|
|Apple||0.18 kg (0.40 lb) of CO2e per pound of apples|
|Banana||0.11 kg (0.24 lb) of CO2e per pound of bananas|
|Plum||0.10 kg (0.22 lb) of CO2e per pound of plums|
|Peach||0.10 kg (0.22 lb) of CO2e per pound of peaches|
|Pineapple||0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapple|
As you can see, many other tropical fruits, like bananas and pineapples, and fruits that grow on trees, like apples and oranges, are far more sustainable than avocados. For example, bananas, oranges, plums, peaches, and pineapples have ⅛ of the carbon footprint of an avocado, making them the far more sustainable choice.
How Does the Carbon Footprint of Avocados Compare to Other Types of Food in General
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). And in comparison to other foods, avocados have a relatively high carbon footprint.
As you can see in the illustration below most plant-based foods have a relatively low carbon footprint (that’s one of the reasons why plant-based diets are generally considered to be more sustainable).
And as avocados are relatively calorie dense, with an average of 250 calories at a weight of ⅓ lbs per avocado, their carbon footprint per 1,000 kilocalories is just about 1.13kg. Meaning that while their carbon footprint per pound is relatively high, their carbon footprint per 1,000 kilocalories is right around that of other fruits.
Having easily accessible carbon data like this table can help you to make more informed decisions about the relative carbon footprint of your food. As we can see here, not all foods or plant-based foods are equal in terms of their carbon footprint. Either way, if you do choose to continue eating avocados, then you should look into ways of reducing or offsetting the carbon footprint of your avocado purchases.
How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint
Having a carbon footprint is inevitable if you want to be part of society, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to help reduce or offset your impact. The most obvious thing to do is choose more sustainable fruits, but even when buying avocados, you can still make sustainable decisions.
With the right know-how, you can easily buy much more sustainable avocados. Even after you’ve already bought them, you can take steps to help reduce your footprint overall.
How Can You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Shopping for Avocados
If you do your research and remain well-informed about avocados and their production process, then you will be able to significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Here are some strategies you should employ to start shopping for avocados more sustainably:
- Buy local avocados: The carbon emissions from avocado imports are very high, but this number is relative to where the avocados come from. Buying US-grown, or even in-state avocados (if you live in a southern state) can greatly reduce your avocado carbon footprint.
- Buy unpackaged avocados: The other major factor in the carbon footprint of an avocado is the packaging. If you buy avocados loose, without any plastic, styrofoam, or cardboard, then your overall waste will be much lower, thus reducing your carbon footprint.
- Dispose of waste sustainably: If you do buy packaged avocados, try to recycle any packaging you can to avoid contributing to landfills. For the organic waste, compost the pits and skins so they don’t end up in landfills either.
- Purchase from sustainable avocado farms: There are more and more sustainable avocado farms popping up, so if you have the option, consider supporting them.
- Grow your own: If you live in a warm enough climate, consider planting your own avocado tree, which you can do from most pits. There is nothing more local than your own backyard!
- Reduce your consumption: Finally, you can simply eat fewer avocados. The less you eat, the less carbon you will be emitting. You don’t have to cut avocados out completely, but perhaps if you eat an avocado a day, you could reduce it to one every other day, or three a week. This small adjustment might not seem like much, but it actually cuts your carbon in half, which isn’t too bad!
Following some of these methods will greatly reduce your carbon footprint as an avocado consumer. Even if it means spending a bit more money on avocados, it’s worth it to know that you’ve made a difference.
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 avocados. 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 avocados – 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 avocados, 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.
If you are an avid avocado consumer, you have probably been somewhat discouraged by this article. Compared to most other fruits, and even foods in general, avocados have a fairly high carbon footprint. If you consume a lot of them, you should probably seriously rethink this habit’s impact on the environment.
However, it isn’t all bad news. The first step to improvement is awareness. Employing some of the reduction habits we listed earlier in the article can certainly do a lot to help, and there’s always the option of offsetting the carbon you emit with your avocado habit. Given these impactful steps, you are well on your way to consuming avocados much more responsibly!
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