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

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

By
Teresa Mersereau

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Blackberry picking is a favorite pastime of many Americans. The blackberry industry itself is worth over $38 million, with 51.3 million lbs produced every year. Hailed as a “superfood” blackberries are packed with many essential nutrients, not to mention their delicious tangy flavor. But certain aspects of the blackberry production process can release carbon emissions, negatively impacting the environment. So we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of blackberries?

Blackberries have an incredibly low carbon footprint at 0.07kg (0.15) of CO2e per pound of blackberries. The most significant factors contributing to this are their irrigation requirements, pesticide use, refrigerated trucking, and plastic packaging. 

In this article, we will look at the full life-cycle of blackberries, investigating how each stage contributes to their carbon footprint. We will go through all of the main stages of blackberries’ production—starting with growth and then going through harvesting, processing, transportation, and ending at waste disposal—and will evaluate how each stage contributes to blackberries’ carbon footprint. So, let’s get into the carbon footprint of blackberries!

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Blackberries

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 blackberries:

To understand the carbon footprint of blackberries, we must assess their 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 Blackberries

The overall carbon footprint of blackberries is very low at 0.07kg (0.15) of CO2e per pound of blackberries. The main factors that contribute to this are pesticide and irrigation use, refrigerated transportation, and plastic packaging. 

Blackberries have a low carbon footprint overall because they generally use manual harvesting and processing practices. They are also domestically produced in North America, and don’t require too many excess resources to grow. However, other factors, such as pesticide use, do cause some carbon emissions to look out for. 

The carbon footprint of blackberries0.07kg (0.15) of CO2e per pound of blackberries

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

The life-cycle stages of blackberriesEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of blackberriesThe carbon footprint of growing blackberries is fairly high. This is mainly because of their high irrigation requirements and excessive pesticide use.
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of blackberriesThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging blackberries is moderate because they use plastic packaging.
Transporting of blackberriesThe carbon footprint of transporting blackberries is moderately high. This is because they have to be transported from Mexico in refrigerated trucks.
End-of-life of blackberriesThe carbon footprint of the end-of-life of blackberries is moderate. This is caused by the low recycling rates of plastic.

The stages that contribute the most to blackberries’ carbon footprint are growth and transportation. These stages require the most resources, such as irrigation, pesticides, and excess fuel for refrigerated trucking. However, processing and end-of-life also rack up emissions, mainly from the use of plastic packaging. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Blackberries

The carbon footprint of growing blackberries is fairly high. This is mainly because of their high irrigation requirements and excessive pesticide use.

The process of growing blackberries generally has a high carbon footprint, depending on the methods used. Factors like the amount of irrigation, deforestation, and pesticide use can all contribute to the overall impact of the growth stage.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing blackberries?

There are many things that blackberries do right in the growth stage, such as having fairly economical land usage and being able to sequester carbon. However, if you want to reduce the impact of this stage you should make the effort to buy organic blackberries to reduce pesticide emissions. 

In short, the fact that blackberries tend to use a lot of pesticides and require significant irrigation means that their carbon footprint at this stage is fairly high. This is true even considering their fairly high land yield and carbon-sequestering properties. 

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

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging blackberries is moderate because they use plastic packaging.

The next major stage in the life-cycle of blackberries’ carbon emissions is harvesting, processing, and packaging. This involves picking the fruit, checking it for damage, sorting it, and getting it ready for distribution. This stage can contribute greatly to the carbon footprint of the fruit depending on the processes used.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging blackberries?

The manual harvesting and processing of blackberries mean that their carbon footprint in this stage can’t be too high. But if you want your blackberry processing impact to be lower, you should try to purchase blackberries without plastic packaging to reduce emissions in that area. 

In short, despite the manual harvesting and processing methods used, plastic packaging drives blackberries’ processing carbon footprint from low to moderate. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting Blackberries

The carbon footprint of transporting blackberries is moderately high. This is because they have to be transported from Mexico in refrigerated trucks.

Blackberries’ journeys have just started when they are packaged. They then have to travel the distance between the farm and the grocery store. The distance, as well as the method through which they have to travel, are the two most important factors in determining the carbon footprint of their transportation.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting blackberries?

  • Where are blackberries grown: Around 75% of blackberries consumed in the US are grown in Mexico. This means that most blackberries are being transported across the border. Mexico is still in North America and has a significantly lower travel cost than fruit that comes from Asia or Oceania, and so the carbon footprint of transporting blackberries is moderate. 
  • How are blackberries transported: Blackberries are transported using refrigerated trucks. Refrigerated trucks have higher emissions than regular trucks, which means that blackberries’ carbon footprint is higher than dry goods that don’t need to be refrigerated. 

The moderate distance that blackberries have to travel within North America means their footprint isn’t too high. Reducing it further would require purchasing American-grown blackberries to cut down on transportation distance emissions. 

In short, transporting blackberries has a high carbon footprint because of their international imports and the excess fuel required for refrigerated trucking. 

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

The carbon footprint of the end-of-life of blackberries is moderate. This is caused by the low recycling rates of plastic.

Blackberries’ carbon footprint journey isn’t done after you consume them. In fact, one of the most important factors that will determine the overall carbon footprint of blackberries is how their waste is disposed of. Here, we will look at how this stage in the process affects blackberries’ carbon footprint. 

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of the end-of-life of blackberries?

  • How are blackberries disposed of: Blackberries don’t have any peels, pits, or other general waste and so are typically consumed whole. For this reason, they don’t have significant food waste and so this stage does not contribute to their carbon footprint. 
  • How is the packaging of blackberries disposed of: Blackberries come in plastic packaging, which is very bad news for their carbon footprint. Plastic has a very low recycling rate at around 9% and so the vast majority ends up in landfills. 

The lack of general food waste within blackberries works in their favor. The best way to cut down on emissions in this area would be to make an effort to recycle your plastic or avoid plastic packaging in the first place. 

In short, blackberries’ plastic packaging and its low recycling rates make for a higher carbon footprint, even if blackberries have minimal food waste. 

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

When compared to other fruits, blackberries have a very low carbon footprint. However, when you consider kilocalories, their low calorie density means that their carbon footprint is higher compared to other foods. 

Blackberries have a low carbon footprint in relation to other fruits, but a slightly higher footprint when kilocalories are taken into account. When assessing the carbon footprint of a particular food, it is always important to place it in the context of other foods. This can help you to see the relative impact they have and assist you in making decisions between different foods based on their carbon footprint. In this next part of the article, we will show you how blackberries compare to other foods in terms of carbon footprint.

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Blackberries Compare to Other Types of Fruits

Blackberries have a very low carbon footprint when compared to other fruits. Fruits in general, tend to have lower carbon footprints than many other foods, like dairy products. However, there is still a lot of variation between them. Different transportation distances, the density of orchards, variations in growing methods, and pesticide use can all add up to contribute to their carbon footprints. Here, we will look at how blackberries compare specifically to other fruits in terms of carbon footprint. 

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

Compared to most fruits, blackberries score fairly low. They are by far the lowest berry in terms of their carbon footprint, coming in at less than half the footprint of raspberries and ⅙ the footprint of blueberries. They also have less than 10% of the emissions of the biggest offender: avocados. Therefore, blackberries are one of the most carbon-conscious fruits out there. 

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

Blackberries rank moderately when compared to other foods, especially when considering kilocalories. Because they have a fairly low calorie density, their carbon footprint is not calorie efficient, which drives up their ranking in this area. 

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

Berries rank very highly on this chart, being the highest fruits represented. 

  • This is mainly because, when kilocalories are taken into account, calorie density—the amount of calories per pound—starts to matter. 
  • Berries in general have a lower calorie density, which means that more carbon needs to be emitted to produce fewer calories. 
  • Blackberries in particular have a very low-calorie density at just under 200 calories per pound.
  • This is half that of bananas, at 400 calories per pound, meaning that blackberries’ carbon footprint is significantly higher when kilocalories are taken into account. 

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

There are many things you can do to cut down on how your blackberry consumption impacts the planet. By carefully considering your consumption habits to reduce carbon emissions and offsetting your carbon through carbon-extraction schemes, you can consume blackberries without having a large negative impact on the earth. 

Some of the carbon risks of blackberries highlighted in this article may sound a bit alarming, especially since their carbon footprint is fairly high. However, the good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to lower your carbon emissions while still eating blackberries. Purchasing organic or locally-grown blackberries and disposing of the waste efficiently can help with this. Furthermore, you can consider emission offsets, which work to extract carbon from the atmosphere. Here, we will walk you through how to accomplish both of these things.

How Can You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Shopping for Blackberries

Before you start worrying about your offsets, you might be wondering how you can stop producing carbon in the first place through your blackberry consumption. One of the best ways to do this is to look at the parts of the blackberry process that have the highest carbon footprint and start there. In this section, we give you a short list of ways you can reduce your blackberry carbon footprint, so you can continue consuming blackberries without the high carbon price tag.

  1. Buy local blackberries: Although 75% of blackberries consumed in the US are grown in Mexico, there are still a significant number of American blackberry farms. Making the effort to buy American-grown, or even in-state blackberries can help reduce transportation distances and thus your overall blackberry carbon footprint. 
  2. Buy organic blackberries: Pesticides are one of the biggest concerns when it comes to blackberries’ carbon footprint. Organic farms don’t use chemicals like pesticides and so purchasing organic blackberries will greatly lower that aspect’s carbon footprint. 
  3. Avoid plastic packaging: Most blackberries come in plastic packaging. However, there are still a significant amount that come in open-top cardboard containers, especially ones from local farmers. Cardboard has a far higher recycling rate than plastic—89%—and so is far less likely to end up in a landfill. It can also be composted

Following some of these methods can really help you to cut down on your blackberry carbon emissions. None of these will bring your emissions down to zero, since there are always hidden carbon costs that may be outside of your control. But reduction is always better than nothing! However, if you do want to get your blackberry emissions down to absolute zero, then you can look into carbon offsets.

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 blackberries. 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 blackberries – 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 blackberries, 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 blackberries.

Final Thoughts

Blackberries are a delicious treat and, fortunately, an incredibly carbon-conscious choice. The fact that they require moderate growing resources, manual harvesting, and North American transportation means that their footprint is nowhere near as high as many other foods. However, there are still ways you can cut down on your blackberry carbon footprint. Buying local and organic as well as purchasing offsets can really help bring your blackberry carbon footprint down to as low as it can be!

Stay impactful,

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