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

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

By
Grace Howarth

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Known as the ‘King of Vegetables’ in India, or the ‘crazy apple’ in Renaissance Italy, the eggplant can be found in food from around the world. From moussaka, to ratatouille, to brinjal bhaji, this vegetable is nutrient-dense, and high in antioxidants. Yet, much less is shared about the environmental impact, and especially the carbon emissions of eggplants. So we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of eggplants?

Eggplant has a low carbon footprint of 0.07 kg (0.16 lbs) CO2e per pound of produce. This vegetable is land and water efficient, and is locally grown across many states. Furthermore, eggplant is rarely sold in plastic or processed. Therefore, the few resources that eggplant needs makes it a low-carbon vegetable.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the overall carbon emissions of the life-cycle of eggplants. From growing and packaging, to transportation and end-of-life practices, you will learn how this vegetable affects the planet and discover some ways to reduce and offset the footprint. 

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Eggplants

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 eggplants:

To understand the carbon footprint of eggplants, 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 Eggplants

The overall carbon footprint of eggplants is 0.07 kg (0.16 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which is very low for crops. Eggplants have a similar carbon footprint to cabbage. They have a much lower carbon footprint than salad vegetables such as salad mix, tomato, cucumber, and bell pepper

When tucking into your favorite eggplant dish, it is important to know the carbon footprint associated with this vegetable. Then, you can make sustainable choices when it comes to your food.

The carbon footprint of eggplants0.07 kg (0.16 lbs) of CO2e per pound of eggplants

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

The life-cycle stages of eggplantsEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of eggplantsThe carbon footprint of growing eggplants is less than 0.05 kg (0.1 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 49.75% of the overall carbon footprint of this plant. These carbon emissions are produced by the resources required to grow this crop, including pesticides, water, and land. Eggplants use a modest amount of these resources, making the carbon footprint low.
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of eggplantsThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging eggplants is less than 0.05 kg (0.1 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 40.20% of the overall carbon footprint of this plant. This low amount is because eggplants are rarely processed or sold in plastic packaging. 
Transporting of eggplantsThe carbon footprint of transporting eggplants is less than 0.05 kg (0.1 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 10.04% of the overall carbon footprint of this plant. The leading states that produce eggplants are New Jersey, California, Florida, and Georgia, meaning that produce can be more localized, leading to a lower carbon footprint. However, the US also imports a lot of eggplants from other countries such as Canada, Mexico, and Honduras.
End-of-life of eggplantsThe carbon footprint of the end-of-life of eggplants is largely impacted by the amount of food wasted. Eggplants are one of the least wasted vegetables, making up only 0.2% of all avoidable vegetable waste, with 2,000 tons wasted every year. Eggplants are also rarely packaged in plastic, meaning that there is little packaging waste as well.

These four stages can be broken down in more detail to understand the factors which impact the carbon footprint of eggplants.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Eggplants

The carbon footprint of growing eggplants is less than 0.05 kg (0.1 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 49.75% of the overall carbon footprint of this plant. These carbon emissions are produced by the resources required to grow this crop, including pesticides, water, and land. Eggplants use a modest amount of these resources, making the carbon footprint low.

Growing eggplants has a relatively low carbon footprint in comparison to other crops. This is because they have economic land usage and do not require an excess of water to grow. 

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing eggplants?

In short, eggplants have a relatively low agricultural carbon footprint, due to the high yield and small water footprint of this crop. 

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

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging eggplants is less than 0.05 kg (0.1 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 40.20% of the overall carbon footprint of this plant. This low amount is because eggplants are rarely processed or sold in plastic packaging. 

Carbon emissions are often created from machine-harvesting, intensive processing, and plastic packaging. However, eggplant is often sold whole, without packaging, and is harvested by hand. This leads to a low carbon footprint. 

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

In short, the lack of processing, machine harvesting, and plastic packaging used for eggplants, mean that few carbon emissions are created. This makes eggplant a sustainable choice in terms of their carbon footprint at this stage.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Eggplants

The carbon footprint of transporting eggplants is less than 0.05 kg (0.1 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 10.04% of the overall carbon footprint of this plant. The leading states that produce eggplants are New Jersey, California, Florida, and Georgia, meaning that produce can be more localized, leading to a lower carbon footprint. However, the US also imports a lot of eggplants from other countries such as Canada, Mexico, and Honduras.

Imports of eggplant increase the carbon footprint due to more food miles. Therefore, purchasing locally grown eggplant is a way to reduce your personal carbon footprint.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting eggplants?

In short, as the US is the second largest importer of eggplant worldwide, a lot of the produce purchased may have a higher carbon footprint. To avoid this, try to find eggplant grown locally.

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

The carbon footprint of the end-of-life of eggplants is largely impacted by the amount of food wasted. Eggplants are one of the least wasted vegetables, making up only 0.2% of all avoidable vegetable waste, with 2,000 tons wasted every year. Eggplants are also rarely packaged in plastic, meaning that there is little packaging waste as well.

Fresh eggplant has a long shelf life, lasting 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator, or up to a year if frozen. This long shelf life means that eggplant is not as frequently wasted as vegetables such as salad mix or lettuce. Eggplants are also compostable, but can end up in landfill. In addition, if packaged in plastic, the packaging is usually recyclable, but can also end up in landfill if not disposed of properly.

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

In short, eggplant is not often wasted, but when it is, be sure to compost it rather than throwing it in the trash. Also, avoid eggplant packaged in plastic, and opt for loose produce to reduce waste.

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

Eggplant has a very low carbon footprint compared to other vegetables. As well as this, vegetables tend to produce far fewer carbon emissions than other types of food. 

Let’s see how eggplant compares with other vegetables.

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Eggplants Compare to Other Types of Vegetables

In comparison to other vegetables, the carbon footprint of eggplants is very low. For example, cucumbers produce over fourteen times the carbon emissions of eggplants. Eggplants have the same carbon footprint as low-carbon cabbage

VegetablesCarbon Footprint
Cucumbers1.00 kg (2.2 lbs) of CO2e per pound of cucumbers
Tomatoes0.82 kg (1.8 lbs) CO2e per pound of tomatoes
Bell Peppers0.73 kg (1.6 lbs) of CO2e per pound of bell peppers
Chili Peppers0.73 kg (1.6 lbs) of CO2e per pound of chili peppers
Asparagus0.41 kg (0.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of asparagus
Salad Mix0.41 kg (0.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of salad mix
Spinach0.30 kg (0.67 lbs) of CO2e per pound of spinach
Cauliflower0.27 kg (0.6 lb) CO2e per pound of cauliflower
Broccoli0.27 kg (0.6 lb) CO2e per pound of broccoli
Celery0.27 kg (0.6 lb) of CO2e per pound of celery
Kale0.27 kg (0.6 lb) of CO2e per pound of kale
Corn0.27 kg (0.6 lb) of CO2e per pound of corn
Lettuce 0.26 kg (0.57 lb) of CO2e per pound of lettuce
Carrots0.18 kg (0.4 lb) of CO2e per pound of carrots
Garlic0.18 kg (0.4 lb) of CO2e per pound of garlic
Green Onions0.16 kg (0.32 lb) of CO2e per pound of green onions
Potatoes0.12 kg (0.27 lb) of CO2e per pound of potatoes
Mushrooms0.12 kg (0.27 lb) of CO2e per pound of mushrooms
Onions 0.11 kg (0.25 lb) of CO2e per pound of onions
Sweet potatoes0.10 kg (0.22 lb) of CO2e per pound of sweet potatoes
Cabbage0.07 kg (0.19 lb) of CO2e per pound of cabbage
Eggplants0.07 kg (0.16 lb) of CO2e per pound of eggplants

So, eggplants have a low carbon footprint in comparison with other vegetables. But how do they compare to other types of food?

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

Eggplants are one of the most sustainable options in comparison to other types of food. They produce nearly 58 times less greenhouse gas emissions than beef

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

Potatoes and eggplants have a similar carbon footprint. Looking at the chart above shows how low the carbon emissions of these crops are in comparison to animal-based produce.

Additionally, since eggplant is low in calories, a far greater amount of produce is needed to equal 1,000 kilocalories.

Even though the carbon emissions for eggplants are very low in comparison to other types of food, try to be mindful of the ways you can lessen your environmental impact when you purchase them.

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

All of the food you eat will have some form of carbon footprint, even when you buy foods with low CO2e, such as eggplants. However, there are ways to offset and reduce your personal carbon footprint. 

There are a few easy techniques to buy more eco-friendly eggplants, and you can also find ways to offset the carbon footprint after your purchase. 

How Can You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Shopping for Eggplants

When shopping for eggplants, consider these ways to lessen your impact on the environment. 

  1. Shop locally and seasonally: Eggplants are usually in season from July to October, depending on the state where they are grown. Buying from local farms reduces the carbon emissions produced and makes eggplant a much more sustainable choice.
  2. Choose organic: Organic eggplants produce a much lower carbon footprint than non-organic vegetables, due to the lack of pesticide production, distribution, and the overall higher health of soil for crops, insects, and animals.
  3. Avoid plastic waste: Avoid eggplant packaged in plastic, as it is a vegetable which does not need packaging to extend its shelf life. Reducing plastic waste is an easy way to choose a lower-carbon option. 

Taking these actions are a great way to lessen your own carbon footprint, but there are also ways to offset the impact of consuming eggplants as well.

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 eggplants. 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 eggplants – 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 eggplants, 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 eggplants.

Final Thoughts

Eggplants have a very low carbon footprint in comparison to other vegetables, and other food in general. However, you can still try to reduce your carbon footprint further by eating organic, reducing food waste, and purchasing local, seasonal produce. When you do enjoy eggplant, think about whether you can offset the carbon emissions created, to make this healthy snack an even more sustainable option! 

Stay impactful,

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