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

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

By
Teresa Mersereau

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Grapefruits are the cousin of the citrus family, known for their semi-sweet, bitter taste. They are a breakfast staple, with lots of fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin A to help you start the day. Grapefruits are incredibly popular, with the grapefruit industry valued at $8 billion in 2018 and projected to grow to over $11 billion by 2027. But grapefruits can also have a significant impact on the environment. So, we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of grapefruits?

Grapefruits have a low carbon footprint of 0.08kg (0.18lb) of CO2e per pound of grapefruit. The main factors contributing to this are their mechanical harvesting and processing, the use of plastic and styrofoam packaging, and their low composting rates. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Grapefruits

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 grapefruits:

To understand the carbon footprint of grapefruits, 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 Grapefruits

The overall carbon footprint of grapefruits is low at 0.08kg (0.18lb) of CO2e per pound of grapefruit. This is mainly caused by mechanization during the harvesting and processing stages, the use of styrofoam and plastic packaging, and low composting rates.

There are many things that grapefruits do right in terms of their carbon footprint. For instance, they don’t require too many resources to grow and are produced in the US. However, there are still some areas in which they have significant emissions. 

The carbon footprint of grapefruits0.08kg (0.18lb) of CO2e per pound of grapefruit

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

The life-cycle stages of grapefruitsEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of grapefruitsThe carbon footprint of growing grapefruits is very low. Their long growth duration has significant emissions, but they still have economic land usage, low irrigation, and low pesticides. 
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of grapefruitsThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging grapefruits is fairly high. This is because of mechanization during the harvesting and processing stages and the use of plastic and styrofoam packaging. 
Transporting of grapefruitsThe carbon footprint of transporting grapefruits is fairly low. This is because they are mainly grown in Florida, so transport emissions are not a big factor.
End-of-life of grapefruitsThe carbon footprint of the end-of-life of grapefruits is moderate. This is because the materials used in their packaging are hard to recycle and their food waste is rarely composted. 

The stage that contributes the most to grapefruits’ carbon footprint is harvesting, processing, and packaging grapefruits, mainly because of mechanization and packaging. The next biggest contributor is waste management because of low recycling and composting rates. Overall, though, grapefruits are a low-emission fruit. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Grapefruits

The carbon footprint of growing grapefruits is very low. Their long growth duration has significant emissions, but they still have economic land usage, low irrigation, and low pesticides. 

The process of growing grapefruit generally has a very low 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 grapefruits?

  • How do grapefruits grow: Grapefruits grow on trees in orchards. Trees in general have carbon sequestration properties. Therefore, this stage offsets some of its own emissions and has a very low carbon footprint. 
  • What is the growth duration of grapefruits: The longer the growth frame, the higher the carbon footprint because more resources are required to sustain the plants. Grapefruit trees don’t produce usable grapefruits until their third year of growth. Individual grapefruits take a long time to mature, on average 9 months and sometimes up to a year to grow, depending on climate. These time frames are very long compared to other fruits like strawberries, but fairly average for citrus fruits like limes. So, this stage contributes moderately to grapefruits’ overall carbon footprint.
  • What is the land usage of grapefruits: When fruits use less land, they require less deforestation and resources to sustain them. Grapefruits yield around 40–50 tons per hectare. This is an above-average yield for fruits. Therefore, this stage contributes minimally to grapefruits’ carbon footprint. 
  • What is the water usage of grapefruits: Citrus trees in general need around 60 inches of water per year. Most grapefruits consumed in the US are grown in Florida, which gets around 54 inches of rain per year. This means that grapefruits need very little irrigation to cover their needs. Thus, this stage does not contribute significantly to grapefruits’ carbon footprint. 
  • What is the pesticide and fertilizer usage of grapefruits: Grapefruits have been identified as one of the lowest pesticide fruits. As a result, pesticides are not a major contributor to grapefruits’ carbon footprint. 

The process of growing grapefruits is very low in carbon emissions. However, to reduce it even more, you could buy organic grapefruits to make sure their pesticide use is zero instead of just low. 

In short, grapefruits have an incredibly low-carbon growing process. They use very little irrigation and pesticides and have economic land usage.

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

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging grapefruits is fairly high. This is because of mechanization during the harvesting and processing stages and the use of plastic and styrofoam packaging. 

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

  • How are grapefruits harvested: Grapefruits are generally harvested mechanically. The method involves using a mechanical harvester to shake the grapefruits onto a tarp and then roll them into a large bushel. Mechanical harvesting requires energy to run and so this stage contributes significantly to grapefruits’ carbon footprint. 
  • How are grapefruits processed: Grapefruits are processed mechanically, with cooling processes being the biggest contributor to this. Since refrigeration requires energy, processing is a major factor in grapefruits’ carbon footprint 
  • How are grapefruits packaged: Many grapefruits come without packaging. However, plastic mesh bags and styrofoam trays are often used as well. These types of packaging have a significant carbon footprint, meaning that packaging contributes moderately to grapefruits’ carbon footprint. 

In the harvesting, processing, and packaging sector, grapefruits’ position largely depends on their type of packaging. To make sure your grapefruit carbon footprint is as low as possible, consider buying grapefruits with as little packaging as possible. 

In short, the energy required for the mechanical harvesting and processing components of grapefruit, as well as the emissions caused by the creation of packaging, drive up their carbon footprint. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting Grapefruits

The carbon footprint of transporting grapefruits is fairly low. This is because they are mainly grown in Florida, so transport emissions are not a big factor.

Grapefruits’ 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 grapefruits?

  • Where are grapefruits grown: The majority of grapefruits in the US are grown in Florida. Therefore, travel times between farms and supermarkets are very short. So, emissions are low at this stage. 
  • How are grapefruits transported: Grapefruits are transported using refrigerated trucks. Since refrigerated trucks use more emissions than regular trucks, this stage has a significant impact on grapefruits’ carbon footprint. 

Grapefruits do not have to travel too far to reach most consumers. This means their footprint at this stage is fairly low, despite their use of refrigerated trucks for transportation. To lower it even further, you should buy grapefruits grown as close to your town as possible to keep those travel times down. 

In short, transporting grapefruits has a fairly small carbon footprint. Though they require refrigerated trucks, their domestic production means they won’t have to travel far. 

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

The carbon footprint of the end-of-life of grapefruits is moderate. This is because the materials used in their packaging are hard to recycle and their food waste is rarely composted. 

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

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

  • How are grapefruits disposed of: Grapefruits have peels that are not generally eaten. They can technically be composted, but unfortunately, only 4% of food waste is actually composted. Even worse, when food waste is in landfills, it releases a greenhouse gas called methane. Because of this, the food waste component of grapefruits contributes significantly to their carbon footprint. 
  • How is the packaging of grapefruits disposed of: When grapefruits use packaging, they employ some of the most damaging materials. Plastic has a recycling rate of around 9%, meaning that the vast majority of it ends up in landfills. Styrofoam is much worse. Not only does it have a recycling rate of less than 1%, but it can also survive in a landfill for as long as 500 years without breaking down. Thus, packaging waste, when used, contributes significantly to grapefruits’ carbon footprint. 

The waste produced by grapefruits can have a considerable effect on the environment. If you make the effort to compost your grapefruit waste and avoid packaging, you can reduce emissions in this area. 

In short, grapefruit waste disposal has a moderate carbon footprint. Styrofoam and plastic are difficult to recycle, and food waste is seldom composted. These are the biggest contributors to this footprint. 

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

Grapefruits have a low carbon footprint compared to other fruits, as well as a low footprint when compared to foods in general. This is mainly because, when kilocalories are taken into account, grapefruits are more calorie-dense and therefore more carbon efficient. 

Grapefruits have a low carbon footprint compared to other foods, largely due to their denser kilocalories. 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 grapefruits compare to other foods in terms of carbon footprint.

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

Grapefruits have a very low carbon footprint in relation 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 grapefruits 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
Cantaloupe0.58kg (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

Grapefruits have some of the smallest carbon footprints of any fruits, and the lowest among citrus. They have less than 1/10 the emissions of the highest emitters, avocados, and only slightly more than the lowest, watermelons. They are also well below the average of 2.7kg and so they are clearly some of the most carbon-conscious fruits you can eat. 

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

Compared to other foods in general, grapefruits have a low carbon footprint. Their high calorie density for citrus fruit helps to lower their carbon footprint in this area. Consequently, their carbon emissions produce more calories per pound than the average citrus fruit. 

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

Grapefruits are listed on the chart alongside other citrus fruits, which in general have a moderate carbon footprint compared to other fruits on this list, and actually do better than other citrus fruits: 

  • Grapefruits have roughly 190 calories per pound, while lemons only have around 130
  • This means that the emissions used to create a pound of grapefruit will go further than the emissions used to create lemons, in terms of calories. 
  • Thus, grapefruits fall lower on this list than citrus in general and have a lower carbon footprint as a result. 

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

There are many things you can do to cut down on how your grapefruit 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 grapefruit without having a large negative impact on the earth. 

Some of the carbon risks of grapefruits highlighted in this article may be somewhat concerning. However, the good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to lower your carbon emissions while still eating grapefruits. Purchasing organic or locally-grown grapefruits 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 Grapefruits

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

  1. Avoid packaging: One of the worst aspects of grapefruit production is their use of harmful materials like plastic and styrofoam. If you make sure that the grapefruits you buy are loose with no packaging then you can help reduce your footprint in this area.
  2. Buy local grapefruits: Even though most grapefruits are produced in the US, it is still a big country. Therefore, if you live far from Florida, your grapefruits could still potentially be traveling hundreds or thousands of miles. Buying grapefruits produced as close to you as possible is the best way to reduce your transportation footprint. 
  3. Compost your grapefruit peels: Food waste in landfills is a huge problem. If you want to really help reduce your grapefruit carbon footprint, you should make an effort to compost your grapefruit peels. If your city doesn’t have a composting system, you can consider making one yourself
  4. Re-use your grapefruit peels: Even better than composting is using the whole fruit in the first place! There are a multitude of uses for grapefruit peels, including making candy, teas, liqueurs, and even cleaning supplies

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

Final Thoughts

Grapefruits are a delicious breakfast staple, but as we have seen, there are a lot of ways in which they can cause emissions. Making sure that your grapefruits are local, free of packaging, and composted when you’re finished with them will help you to reduce your impact in this area. Luckily, grapefruits are fairly low in carbon in the first place, but implementing these kinds of changes can help you to get that carbon footprint even lower!

Stay impactful,

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