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

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

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Teresa Mersereau

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Cantaloupe is a popular fruit in the US, with over a billion pounds of cantaloupe produced each year. They’re also a source of many major nutrients, such as potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. However, there are parts of the cantaloupe production cycle that can accrue some serious carbon emissions. The resources needed to grow them, transportation, and disposal can really add up. So we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of cantaloupe?

The carbon footprint of cantaloupe is high at 0.58kg (1.3lb) of CO2e per pound of cantaloupe. This is mainly because of their low land density, high irrigation, refrigeration during transportation, and low composting rates. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Cantaloupes

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 cantaloupe:

To understand the carbon footprint of cantaloupes, 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 Cantaloupes

The overall carbon footprint of cantaloupes is 0.58kg (1.3lb) of CO2e per pound of cantaloupe. The main factors that contribute to this are their high resource needs during growth (land, irrigation), long transportation distances in the winter, and refrigerated transportation.

Cantaloupe has a high carbon footprint overall. The main positives are fast growth times, manual harvesting, a significant amount of domestic production, and minimal packaging. However, there are still plenty of factors that drive up their carbon footprint, particularly their transportation needs. 

The carbon footprint of cantaloupes0.58kg (1.3lb) of CO2e per pound of cantaloupe

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

The life-cycle stages of cantaloupesEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of cantaloupeThe carbon footprint of growing cantaloupes is moderate. This is mainly because of their fairly low yields per hectare and their high irrigation needs.
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of cantaloupesThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging cantaloupes is very low. This is because they are harvested and processed manually and require minimal packaging. 
Transporting of cantaloupesThe carbon footprint of transporting cantaloupes is high because they require refrigeration during transportation. Cantaloupes are also imported during the winter months which increases travel times and their related emissions. 
End-of-life of cantaloupesThe carbon footprint of the end-of-life of cantaloupes is moderate. This is mainly because of the low composting rates of their food waste. 

The stage that contributes the most to cantaloupes’ footprint is growth, due to the amount of resources required during the process, such as land requirements and irrigation. This is followed by transportation, which can be high depending on the season, and waste disposal, with much cantaloupe waste ending up in landfills. Harvesting has the lowest footprint because of manual processing methods. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Cantaloupes

The carbon footprint of growing cantaloupes is moderate. This is mainly because of their fairly low yields per hectare and their high irrigation needs.

The process of growing cantaloupes has a moderate 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 cantaloupes?

  • How do cantaloupes grow: Cantaloupes are a part of the pumpkin and squash family, meaning that they grow in vines along the ground. These kinds of crops can sequester carbon using photosynthesis. In particular, cantaloupe locks carbon into the soil through their roots. Thus, this stage offsets some of the other emissions and contributes very minimally to cantaloupes’ carbon footprint. 
  • What is the growth duration of cantaloupes: The longer the growth frame, the higher the carbon footprint because more resources are required to sustain the plants. Cantaloupes grow on small plants, so they can be harvested in their first year of production. In fact, they can be harvested at around the three-month mark. This is an incredibly fast turnaround time for a fruit. So, this stage does not contribute significantly to cantaloupe’s carbon footprint. 
  • What is the land usage of cantaloupes: When fruits use less land, they require less deforestation and resources to sustain them. Cantaloupes produce about 15 tons of fruit per hectare. This is a relatively low yield compared to other fruits. For example, strawberries yield around 15-25 tons per hectare. So, this stage has a sizable contribution to cantaloupe’s carbon footprint. 
  • What is the water usage of cantaloupes: Cantaloupes need around 1–2 inches of water a week, or between 50 and 100 inches per year. Most American cantaloupes are grown in California. However, California only gets a meager 22 inches of rain per year. Thus, cantaloupes need a high amount of irrigation. Irrigation has a high carbon footprint and so this stage is a major contributor to cantaloupes’ carbon footprint. 
  • What is the pesticide and fertilizer usage of cantaloupe: Cantaloupes were included on a list of fruits with the lowest amount of pesticides. Therefore, they are free of the significant emissions pesticides can cause

Cantaloupes do a lot right in their growth stage. Their growth turnaround times and their lack of pesticides mean their emissions are not too high. However, their small land yields and need for a lot of irrigation raises their emissions to moderate. 

In short, there are aspects of cantaloupes’ growth process that have a significant carbon footprint, such as their intensive irrigation and need for more land per pound. However, they also use few pesticides and grow fast, preventing their footprint from being too high. 

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

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging cantaloupes is very low. This is because they are harvested and processed manually and require minimal packaging. 

The next major stage in the life-cycle of cantaloupes’ 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 cantaloupes?

Overall, the methods through which cantaloupes are harvested, processed, and packaged are very low in carbon emissions. The fact that most of their harvesting and processing are done manually and their packaging is minimal means their footprint is low. 

In short, the manual processing of cantaloupes and their lack of significant packaging combine to create a very small carbon footprint. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting Cantaloupes

The carbon footprint of transporting cantaloupes is high because they require refrigeration during transportation. Cantaloupes are also imported during the winter months which increases travel times and their related emissions. 

Cantaloupes’ 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 cantaloupes?

There are a few factors affecting the severity of cantaloupes’ transportation carbon footprint. These factors include how far you live from California, the season in which you are consuming melons, and the method by which they came to you. Thus, this stage has a moderate carbon footprint overall.

In short, a large portion of the year sees Americans importing their cantaloupes. Furthermore, they need to be transported in refrigerated containers, so their carbon footprint at this stage can be significant. 

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

The carbon footprint of the end-of-life of cantaloupes is moderate. This is mainly because of the low composting rates of their food waste. 

Cantaloupes’ 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 cantaloupe is how their waste is disposed of. Here, we will look at how this stage in the process affects cantaloupes’ carbon footprint. 

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

  • How are cantaloupes disposed of: Cantaloupes have rinds and seeds that are generally not eaten. These can be composted, but in practice, only 4% of food waste is actually composted. This means that the vast majority of cantaloupe waste is ending up in landfills. Furthermore, food waste is particularly harmful to the environment as it releases a greenhouse gas called methane when it is put in landfills. Thus, this stage contributes fairly significantly to cantaloupes’ carbon footprint. 
  • How is the packaging of cantaloupes disposed of: Cantaloupes have very minimal packaging. During the transportation stage, they use some cardboard. Luckily, cardboard has a high recycling rate at around 89%. Therefore, this stage does not contribute significantly to cantaloupes’ carbon footprint. 

The different kinds of waste produced by cantaloupes have a range of carbon footprints, with the food waste they produce having a higher impact on their overall carbon footprint than the cardboard they use. 

In short, although cantaloupes don’t come with significant packaging, the fact that their food waste is generally not composted means their carbon footprint is relatively high. 

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

Amongst foods, cantaloupes have an incredibly high carbon footprint. This is especially true because their lower calorie density results in their kilocalorie carbon footprint being much higher. 

Cantaloupes have a high carbon footprint in relation to other foods, especially 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 cantaloupe compares to other foods in terms of carbon footprint.

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

Cantaloupes have a high 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 cantaloupes 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

Cantaloupes have some of the highest carbon footprints on the list. They are not the highest, with avocados still topping the list, but they are still far higher than most fruits on this list. They are orders of magnitude higher than the lowest emitters, with ten times the emissions of clementines and watermelons. 

They are also more than double the list’s average of 0.27. Thus, when compared to other fruits, cantaloupes don’t fare too well in terms of their carbon footprint. 

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

Cantaloupes have a very high carbon footprint amongst foods in general, coming in among meat products in terms of kilocalorie carbon footprint. 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 cantaloupes compare specifically to other fruits in terms of carbon footprint. 

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

Cantaloupes have around three times the overall carbon footprint of bananas. So, we can extrapolate that they would probably be between eggs and pork. 

  • However, cantaloupes have an incredibly low-calorie density, with only around 150 calories per pound to bananas’ 400
  • Therefore, they are likely far higher on the list 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 cantaloupe consumption impacts the planet. For cantaloupe in particular, buying local and seasonal cantaloupes as well as making efforts to compost are key. By carefully considering your consumption habits to reduce carbon emissions and offsetting your carbon through carbon-extraction schemes, you can consume cantaloupe without having a large negative impact on the earth. 

Some of the carbon risks of cantaloupe 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 cantaloupe. Purchasing organic or locally grown cantaloupe 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 Cantaloupes

Before you start worrying about your offsets, you might be wondering how you can stop producing carbon in the first place through your cantaloupe consumption. One of the best ways to do this is to look at the parts of the cantaloupe 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 cantaloupe carbon footprint, so you can continue consuming cantaloupe without the high carbon price tag.

  1. Buy seasonal cantaloupes: Since the locations of growing cantaloupes differ so much throughout the year, you can really reduce your carbon footprint by ensuring that you only buy cantaloupes in the summer. This way, you will be raising the likelihood that your cantaloupes are local. 
  2. Buy local cantaloupes: Even if you buy cantaloupe in the summer, it might still be grown far away, especially if you live in the eastern part of the US. Fortunately, 25% of American cantaloupes are produced outside of California, with many being grown in Texas, Florida, and even Pennsylvania. If you make the effort to buy cantaloupes from your closest cantaloupe-producing state, then you will be lowering your cantaloupe carbon footprint significantly. 
  3. Compost your cantaloupes’ rinds: The other big contributor to cantaloupes’ carbon footprint besides transportation is disposal of food waste. If you make the effort to compost your cantaloupe waste, then you will reduce your carbon footprint by a lot. If your municipality doesn’t support composting, you can consider making your own compost

Following some of these methods can really help you to cut down on your cantaloupe 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 cantaloupe 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 cantaloupe. 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 cantaloupe – 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 cantaloupe, 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 cantaloupes.

Final Thoughts

Cantaloupes might be popular and nutritious, but it packs one of the highest carbon footprints amongst fruits. There are a great many resources required to grow, transport, and dispose of cantaloupes, making them one of the least carbon-conscious fruits you can eat. However, there are still ways you can reduce this footprint, such as buying local and making the effort to compost. If you follow these reduction methods you can still consume cantaloupe with a lower carbon footprint!

Stay impactful,

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