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

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

By
Grace Howarth

Read Time:15 Minutes

CLICK TO
SUBSCRIBE

follow follow

Impactful Ninja is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more Learn more .

Affiliate Disclosure

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.

Why do we add these product links?

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.

What do these affiliate links mean for you?
  1. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.

  3. 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.

What do these affiliate links mean for us?
  1. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).

  3. 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.

What does this mean for me personally?

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.

Stay impactful,

The average American eats two pounds of garlic a year, and 14% of us put garlic on nearly everything we cook. Garlic has a host of health benefits and medicinal properties, and could help reduce cholesterol and heart disease. Furthermore, it contains antioxidants that may prevent the common cold, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Yet, much less is shared about the environmental impact, and especially the carbon emissions of garlic. So we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of garlic?

Garlic has a carbon footprint of 0.18 kg (0.4 lb) of CO2e per pound of produce. This is a very low carbon footprint in comparison to other vegetables, and is largely because garlic is often sold without plastic, has a long shelf life, and often requires few resources, such as pesticides, to grow. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through the overall carbon emissions of the life-cycle of garlic. From growing and packaging, to transporting 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 Garlic

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 garlic:

To understand the carbon footprint of garlic, 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 Garlic

The overall carbon footprint of garlic is 0.18 kg (0.4 lb) of CO2e per pound of produce, which is low for crops. Garlic produces less than half of the carbon emissions of salad mix, and under a fifth of the carbon emissions of cucumber.

Garlic is a popular way to add flavoring to many dishes, so 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 garlic0.18 kg (0.4 lb) of CO2e per pound of garlic

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

The life-cycle stages of garlicEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of garlicThe carbon footprint of growing garlic is 0.13 kg (0.3 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce. This makes up 74.57% of the overall carbon footprint of this plant. The significant land usage, long growing period, and water irrigation systems used make up a large part of this figure. 
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of garlicThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging garlic is <0.05 kg (<0.1 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 16.46% of the overall carbon footprint. Unprocessed and unpackaged garlic has a lower carbon footprint, as less resources are required.
Transporting of garlicThe carbon footprint of transporting garlic is <0.05 kg (<0.1 lb) of CO2e per pound of produce which amounts to 8.98% of the overall carbon footprint. This is impacted negatively by the 2.5 million tonnes of garlic imported to the US per year, mostly from China. 
End-of-life of garlicThe carbon footprint of the end-of-life of garlic is largely impacted by the amount of food wasted. Around 20 million garlic cloves are wasted a year. Choosing loose garlic reduces the plastic waste of this crop.

These four stages can be broken down in more detail to understand why the carbon footprint of garlic is relatively low in comparison to other vegetables.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Garlic

The carbon footprint of growing garlic is 0.13 kg (0.3 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce. This makes up 74.57% of the overall carbon footprint of this plant. The significant land usage, long growing period, and water irrigation systems used make up a large part of this figure. 

Garlic is relatively easy to grow, and requires little maintenance. Often the growing stage of a crop’s life cycle produces a majority of carbon emissions due to the land, water and resources needed. Although the majority of carbon emissions are created in this stage of garlic production, the overall carbon footprint of this crop is low.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing garlic?

In short, growing garlic accounts for the majority of the carbon footprint of this plant. Land, water, and growth duration, are key factors towards this. 

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

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging garlic is <0.05 kg (<0.1 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 16.46% of the overall carbon footprint. Unprocessed and unpackaged garlic has a lower carbon footprint, as less resources are required.

Garlic is often sold loose, which is part of the reason why it has a lower carbon footprint than vegetables which are frequently packaged in plastic, such as salad mix. However, the processing stages and machine-harvesting of this crop contribute to the carbon emissions of this stage. 

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

In short, garlic that is unprocessed and sold loose has a lower carbon footprint than garlic packaged in plastic or sold pre-processed. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Garlic

The carbon footprint of transporting garlic is <0.05 kg (<0.1 lb) of CO2e per pound of produce which amounts to 8.98% of the overall carbon footprint. This is impacted negatively by the 2.5 million tonnes of garlic imported to the US per year, mostly from China. 

Garlic is transported from overseas to satisfy consumer demands for year-round produce. This customer demand for non-seasonal crops has a negative impact on the carbon footprint of garlic. 

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting garlic?

In short, a reliance on imported garlic, shipped from a long distance, significantly increases the carbon footprint of this plant. Shopping locally and seasonally is a key way to reduce the impact of purchasing garlic.

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

The carbon footprint of the end-of-life of garlic is largely impacted by the amount of food wasted. Around 20 million garlic cloves are wasted a year. Choosing loose garlic reduces the plastic waste of this crop.

Garlic has a long shelf-life and is often sold without packaging, meaning that the end-of-life of garlic should have a relatively low carbon footprint. However, garlic waste still often ends up in landfill, increasing the carbon footprint of this stage.

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

In short, buying unpackaged garlic, and storing it properly, leads to far less waste. Being conscious of the way you dispose of garlic waste will reduce your carbon footprint.

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

Garlic has a very low carbon footprint compared to other vegetables. Additionally, vegetables tend to produce far fewer carbon emissions than other types of food, making garlic a highly sustainable choice!

Let’s see how garlic compares with other vegetables.

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

In comparison to other vegetables, the carbon footprint of garlic is very low. For example, cucumbers produce more than 5 times the carbon emissions of garlic. Salad vegetables tend to need more resources to grow, making their carbon footprint far higher than root vegetables.

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, garlic is a vegetable with one of the lowest carbon footprints. But how does it compare to other types of food?

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

Root vegetables have a very low carbon footprint in comparison to other types of food. They produce around 31 times fewer 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

Additionally, since garlic is low in calories, a far greater amount of produce is needed to equal 1,000 kilocalories. Also small amounts of garlic are most commonly used as a garnish or flavoring, rather than eating a full ‘portion.’ 

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

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, like garlic. However, there are still ways to offset and reduce your personal carbon footprint. 

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

How Can You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Shopping for Garlic

When shopping for garlic, consider these ways to lessen your impact on the environment:

  1. Shop locally and seasonally: Garlic is in prime season from summer to fall. Buying from local farms reduces the carbon emissions produced and makes it a much more sustainable choice. If you are near a local, small-scale farm, which harvests by hand, your purchase will be even better for the environment.
  2. Choose organic: Organic garlic has 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. Buy plastic-free: Avoid pre-processed and packaged garlic, and instead opt for whole, loose produce. This will decrease the overall carbon footprint of your purchase massively.
  4. Store your garlic correctly: Garlic can actually last for up to six months in the correct storage conditions, but moisture and light can lead to premature spoilage. Store it in a cool dark place, and freeze chopped garlic to lead to a longer shelf-life, and less food waste. To create even less waste, you could even use the skin of garlic to create your own garlic powder

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

Final Thoughts

Garlic has a very low carbon footprint when compared with other vegetables and an even lower carbon footprint when compared with other foods. However, you can try to reduce your carbon footprint even further by eating organic, reducing food and plastic waste, and purchasing local, seasonal produce. When you do enjoy garlic, think about whether you can offset the carbon emissions created, to make this healthy vegetable a more sustainable option!

Stay impactful,

Illustration of a signature for Grace Howarth

Sources

Photo of author
Did you like this article?

Get the 5-minute newsletter that makes reading impactful news enjoyable—packed with actionable insights to make a positive impact in your daily life.

Three Related Posts

One Unrelated Post