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

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

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Teresa Mersereau

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Clementines have been popular for centuries, contain just 35 calories, are full of vitamin C and antioxidants, and are particularly famous as Christmas stocking-fillers. Sometimes known as mandarin oranges, clementines are native to South and Southeast Asia, but are now grown all over the world. However, the carbon footprint of clementines is less well known. Factors like transportation, waste management, and agricultural practices can all have a massive effect on their carbon footprint. So, we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of clementines?

The carbon footprint of clementines is 0.06 kg (0.13 lbs) CO2e per pound of clementines. The main contributors to this carbon footprint are their use of pesticides, the energy used to transport them, and the use of plastic packaging. However, this carbon footprint is still relatively small. 

In this article, we will look at the full life cycle of the clementine, investigating how each stage contributes to its carbon footprint. We will go through each of the main stages of the clementine’s production, starting with growth and then going through harvesting, distribution, and ending at waste disposal. Through each of these sections, we will evaluate how it contributes to the clementine’s carbon footprint to determine the overall impact of the clementine.

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Clementines

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 clementines:

To understand the carbon footprint of clementines, 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 Clementines

Clementines have an overall carbon footprint of 0.06 kg (0.13 lbs) CO2e per pound of clementines. This is mainly due to factors such as their pesticide use, plastic packaging, and long transportation distances. 

Many people love to peel a sweet clementine on a hot day, but what they don’t know is that there are a lot of things that can contribute to their overall carbon footprint. These can be as big as the method of transportation to as small as the type of pesticide used—all of them are factors that can balloon into a big carbon footprint. So, let’s examine how all these factors combine to form the overall carbon footprint of the clementine. 

The carbon footprint of clementines0.06 kg (0.13 lbs) CO2e per pound of clementines

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

The life-cycle stages of clementinesEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of clementinesThe growth stage of clementines contributes moderately to its overall carbon footprint. This is largely because of the irrigation required and high pesticide use. However, this is offset by high tree density, short growth times, and tree carbon sequestering. 
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of clementinesHarvesting, processing, and packaging doesn’t contribute too much to the clementine’s overall carbon footprint. The main contributor is the packaging, but this is offset by the manual processing methods. 
Transporting of clementinesThe carbon footprint of transporting clementines is high. This is mainly due to the fact that they need to come from Spain or Peru. They also need to be refrigerated during transportation.
End-of-life of clementinesWaste has a moderate effect on the clementine’s overall carbon footprint. This is largely due to methane from organic waste that ends up in landfills, as well as unrecycled plastic. 

As we can see, transportation has the biggest impact on the clementine’s carbon footprint, along with certain growth practices. These are the bigger summaries of each stage of the clementine’s impact, illustrating for you how they contribute to the carbon footprint. But each of those categories has a more complex story to tell. In the ensuing sections, we will dive deeper into the more specific qualities of these aspects of the clementine’s production process. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Clementines

The growth stage of clementines contributes moderately to its overall carbon footprint. This is largely because of the irrigation required and high pesticide use. However, this is offset by high tree density, short growth times, and tree carbon sequestering. 

The process of growing fruit can actually have a relatively 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. Here, we will look at how these factors work within the clementine industry.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing clementines?

Clementines have some positives when it comes to their carbon footprint, from their extremely dense orchards to their quick growth. However, they also require a considerable amount of irrigation and use a lot of pesticides, both of which negatively impact the carbon footprint of clementines. Therefore, their overall carbon footprint is moderate. 

In short, clementines use some carbon during their growth stage, but they still have a considerably low carbon footprint when it comes to growth, coming out better than many other fruits. 

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

Harvesting, processing, and packaging doesn’t contribute too much to the clementine’s overall carbon footprint. The main contributor is the packaging, but this is offset by the manual processing methods.

The next major stage in the clementine’s growth process is harvesting, processing, and packaging. This involves actually picking the fruit, checking it for damage, sorting it, and getting it ready for distribution. This stage is very important, and if certain factors are in place, can actually contribute greatly to the carbon footprint of the fruit. So, let’s see how the process of harvesting, processing, and packaging clementines affects their carbon footprint. 

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

  • How are clementines harvested: Clementines are typically harvested by hand. This is because they need to be picked while they are perfectly ripe and thus need to be carefully selected. Hand-picking is more carbon-conscious than mechanized picking. So, this part of the process has no significant carbon footprint. 
  • How are clementines processed: After they are picked, clementines need to be cleaned, sorted, and sometimes colored. Generally, these things are also done by hand. So, this stage of the process also has a very small carbon footprint. 
  • How are clementines packaged: There are generally a few components to clementine packaging: cardboard, wood, and plastic. Both cardboard and plastic create carbon emissions when they are produced. So, this component does contribute significantly to clementines’ overall carbon footprint. 

On the one hand, this stage of the clementine’s carbon footprint is minor, since most of the production process is done by hand. However, the carbon emissions from their packaging materials raises this stage considerably, meaning that it contributes low to moderate in terms of overall carbon footprint.

In short, the production part of the clementine life cycle isn’t too big of a carbon emitter, but the plastic and cardboard packaging does raise the footprint of this stage. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Clementines

The carbon footprint of transporting clementines is high. This is mainly due to the fact that they need to come from Spain or Peru. They also need to be refrigerated during transportation.

A clementine’s journey has just started when it is 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. So, let’s see how the transportation of clementines contributes to their overall carbon footprint.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting clementines?

  • Where are clementines grown: Clementines consumed in the US are grown mainly in Spain. However, there are also some Chilean and Peruvian clementines imported, mainly in the winter. So, clementines have to travel a considerable distance to reach the States, considerably raising their carbon footprint. 
  • How are clementines transported: Clementines are typically shipped to the US. They also require refrigerated containers, which consume much more carbon than unrefrigerated containers. Thus, the method of transportation does contribute significantly to the carbon footprint of the clementine. 

Clementines are not the best fruits on the transportation front. They have to travel to the US from far away and they require extra resources in order to do so, namely refrigeration. Thus, we can safely say that transportation is one of the leading contributors to the clementine’s overall carbon footprint. 

In short, clementine transportation requires a significant amount of carbon, both because of the distances they need to travel and the extra energy required for refrigeration. 

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

Waste has a moderate effect on the clementine’s overall carbon footprint. This is largely due to methane from organic waste that ends up in landfills, as well as unrecycled plastic.

The clementine’s 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 the clementine is how its waste is disposed of. Here, we will look at how this stage in the process affects the clementine’s carbon footprint. 

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

  • How are clementines disposed of: All of the clementine’s waste, including the pit, is biodegradable. However, only about 4% of compostable materials are actually composted, meaning that most simply go to landfills. Furthermore, throwing food waste in landfills generates methane, which is a very harmful greenhouse gas. Pair that with the almost 4 million tons of citrus peels that are wasted every year and you get a lot of potential methane! Therefore, the organic waste of clementines contributes significantly to its carbon footprint. 
  • How is the packaging of clementines disposed of: Since there are many materials used in clementine packaging, they have varying degrees of success. Cardboard packaging has the highest rate of recycling, at 89%. Wood also has a high recycling rate at around 90%. However, other parts of the packaging, such as plastic, have a much lower recycling rate, at around 9%. Therefore, packaging contributes somewhat to the overall carbon footprint of clementines. 

The carbon footprint of clementine waste is completely dependent on how consumers treat waste. According to statistics, they are likely to recycle cardboard and wood, but not plastic. Therefore, these materials are the biggest culprits in the clementine’s waste carbon footprint. 

In short, some materials have more of an effect on the clementine’s carbon footprint than others. Ones with plastic packaging and whose organic waste is not composted will have the largest footprint. 

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

Clementines compare very favorably compared with other foods. In comparison to other popular fruits, they rank the lowest, coming in exponentially lower than many other fruits. When it comes to foods in general, they are ranked in the lower third. This means that clementines are a comparatively carbon-conscious food, especially when you take kilocalories into account. 

When assessing the carbon footprint of a particular food, it’s 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 clementines compare to other foods in terms of carbon footprint. 

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Clementines Compare to Other Types of 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, variation in growing methods, and pesticide use can all add up to contribute to their carbon footprints. Here, we will look at how clementines 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

As we can see, clementines have the lowest carbon footprint of any of the fruits listed above. They clear even the lowest fruits, such as lemons, and are more than ten times lower than that of avocados. When it comes to choosing a carbon-conscious fruit, clementines are for sure some of the best. 

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

Branching outside the world of fruit, clementines also have a place among food in general. As a fruit, it is going to be on the lower end, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily the lowest. Here, we will look at how clementines compare to the greater category of all foods. 

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

Clementines are likely ranked alongside other citrus fruits, placing them in the lower-middle category of these fruits. However, when we take into account calories per pound, clementines are actually more efficient. Compared to lemons, which have only 130 calories per pound, clementines have a whopping 215 per pound, meaning that their carbon footprint per kilocalorie is actually very low. Therefore, clementines likely rank among the lowest of these foods, making them exceptionally low on the overall carbon footprint scale. 

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

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

Some of the carbon risks of clementines that we have highlighted in this article may sound a bit alarming. However, the good news is that there are actually a lot of things you can do to lower your carbon emissions while still eating clementines. Purchasing organic or locally grown clementines 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 Clementines

Before you start worrying about your offsets, you might be wondering how you can stop producing carbon in the first place through your clementine consumption. In this section, we will give you a short list of things you can do to continue consuming clementines without the high carbon price tag.

  1. Buy clementines with less (plastic) packaging: This might come at the cost of nicks and bruises, but reducing or even omitting plastic from your clementine footprint is crucial. Even omitting recyclable materials like cardboard and wood can help you to reduce the emissions used to make and even recycle them. One of the best ways to do this is to buy them individually from the grocery store, not in packs. 
  2. Buy local clementines: Though the majority of clementines are imported to the US, there is still a significant industry in California. Even if you live on the East Coast, this is still significantly better than buying them from Europe or South America. Since the transportation emissions are so high for clementines, it’s essential that you reduce the distance as much as possible. 
  3. Buy organic clementines: Since pesticides are a major contributor to the clementine’s carbon footprint, it would be advisable to purchase organic clementines, which don’t use pesticides. These clementines will be able to lower your clementine consumption’s carbon footprint by even more. 
  4. Compost and recycle: Another major contributor to the clementine’s carbon footprint is improper waste disposal. Make sure that you compost all organic waste and recycle all paper waste to prevent them from ending up in landfills. If you don’t have a government-run composting or recycling program in your area, consider making your own compost and using cardboard as roughage.

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

Final Thoughts

Clementines are not only a great treat, they are also incredibly carbon-conscious! Looking at all the statistics from their growth rates to their handling, we have seen that they score very low. This is also true when they are compared to other fruits and even foods in general, where they rank among the lowest popular fruits and the lowest amongst foods in general. Yet, despite the low carbon footprint of these fruits, we also provided you with some excellent methods for reducing your clementine impact, making them even more carbon-conscious. So, the next time you are hankering for a sweet clementine, know that you are doing so carbon-consciously!

Stay impactful,

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