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

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

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Teresa Mersereau

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Grapes are a delicious and versatile fruit, with 30% being consumed directly, and the other 70% used to make wine. Originating as a crop around 8,000 years ago, they have a long agricultural history as well. But grapes can also have a significant impact on the environment. Many of the resources used to produce and distribute grapes can emit a lot of carbon. So, we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of grapes?

Grapes have a carbon footprint of 0.64 kg (1.42 lbs) of CO2e per pound of grapes. This is mainly because of their irrigation, high pesticide use, refrigeration requirements during transportation, and high levels of packaging. Their footprint is especially high compared to other fruits.

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Grapes

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 grapes:

To understand the carbon footprint of grapes, 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 Grapes

The overall carbon footprint of grapes is 0.64 kg (1.42 lbs) of CO2e per pound of grapes. The main contributing factors to this carbon footprint are irrigation requirements, pesticide use, and high levels of packaging. 

The carbon footprint of grapes is fairly high when compared with other fruits. There are a few factors that contribute to this comparatively high number, including the distance and method of transportation, as well as the type of pesticides used.

The carbon footprint of grapes0.64 kg (1.42 lbs) of CO2e per pound of grapes

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

The life-cycle stages of grapesEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of grapesThe carbon footprint of growing grapes is moderate. This is mainly due to their necessary irrigation and tendency to use a high amount of pesticides.
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of grapesThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging grapes is moderately high. The main contributor is their excessive use of packaging, especially materials like styrofoam and plastic. 
Transporting of grapesThe carbon footprint of transporting grapes is moderate to low. This is mainly because the majority of American-consumed grapes are grown in California, but they do have to travel in refrigerated trucks. 
End-of-life of grapesThe carbon footprint of the end-of-life of grapes is fairly significant. This is primarily due to low composting rates, as well as low recycling rates of plastic and styrofoam. 

When looking at the overview of the stages of grape production, we can see that growth and end-of-life have the most significant impact on grapes’ carbon footprint. These are the bigger summaries of each stage of grapes’ impact. But each of those categories has a more complex story to tell. In the ensuing sections, we will dive deeper into each aspect of grapes’ production process. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Grapes

The carbon footprint of growing grapes is moderate. This is mainly due to their necessary irrigation and tendency to use a high amount of pesticides.

The process of growing grapes has a comparatively 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 grapes?

The main aspects of the growth stage that contribute the most to grapes’ overall carbon footprint are irrigation and pesticide use. Grapes need a certain amount of supplemental water to keep them hydrated, and many grape farms use an exceptionally high amount of pesticides. Though they score low in the areas of growth method, duration, and land use, grapes still come out with a moderate growth carbon footprint. 

In short, the growth stage contributes moderately to grapes’ carbon footprint. The requirement for irrigation and their bad pesticide track record are the main contributing factors to this stage’s footprint. 

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

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging grapes is moderately high. The main contributor is their excessive use of packaging, especially materials like styrofoam and plastic. 

The next major stage in the life-cycle of grapes’ carbon emissions is harvesting, processing, and packaging, which 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.

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

  • How are grapes harvested: Grapes are, for the most part, hand-harvested. This means that there is no (direct) energy required to pick the grapes, and so it contributes very minimally to their overall carbon footprint. 
  • How are grapes processed: Grapes are typically packed by hand as they are picked. Because this doesn’t require any direct energy to run, the processing of grapes does not contribute significantly to their carbon footprint. 
  • How are grapes packaged: Grapes are packaged in either cardboard boxes, styrofoam boxes, or plastic bags and containers. Cardboard, plastic, and styrofoam produce carbon emissions, meaning that this part of the process does contribute significantly to the overall carbon footprint of grapes. 

When it comes to the handling of grapes during their harvesting and processing stages, there is an almost negligible carbon footprint. However, once you factor in the emissions required to create grape packaging, their harvesting, processing, and packaging carbon footprint becomes high. 

In short, harvesting, processing, and packaging grapes have a moderate carbon footprint. Despite their manual harvesting and processing, the high amount of packaging drives up their footprint. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Grapes

The carbon footprint of transporting grapes is moderate to low. This is mainly because the majority of American-consumed grapes are grown in California, but they do have to travel in refrigerated trucks. 

A grape’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.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting grapes?

Overall, there is some carbon that goes into the process of transporting grapes, but not considerably more than other fruits. So, grapes have a fairly moderate to low transportation footprint. 

In short, the carbon footprint of transporting grapes is balanced by domestic production and the more carbon-costly refrigerated trucking. 

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

The carbon footprint of the end-of-life of grapes is fairly significant. This is primarily due to low composting rates, as well as low recycling rates of plastic and styrofoam. 

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

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

  • How are grapes disposed of: Grapes have stems and sometimes seeds that cannot be eaten, but they are both technically biodegradable. Unfortunately, only 4% of food is composted. This means that the majority of food waste ends up in landfills. Furthermore, throwing food waste in landfills generates methane, which is a very harmful greenhouse gas. Therefore, the organic waste of grapes does contribute significantly to their carbon footprint. 
  • How is the packaging of grapes disposed of: Grapes have three types of packaging: cardboard, plastic, and styrofoam. Cardboard has a remarkable recycling rate at 89%, plastic has a low recycling rate, at around 9%, and styrofoam has by far the lowest, at around 1%. So, if your grapes come in any of these packaging materials, especially the latter two, they will have a significant packaging waste carbon footprint. 

Though all the waste involved with grapes can theoretically be composted or recycled, in practice a lot of it ends up in landfills. As a result, the end-of-life stage contributes very significantly to grapes’ carbon footprint. 

In short, grapes’ end-of-life has a fairly high carbon footprint. When you take into account how most organic waste, as well as most plastic and styrofoam waste, is ending up in landfills, you can see how this stage can really drive up grapes’ overall carbon footprint. 

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

In comparison to other fruits, grapes have a significant carbon footprint. In terms of fruits, they are one of the highest carbon emitters, and amongst food in general, they are in the top half of foods ranked. When kilocalories are taken into account, they are also not as efficient as other foods. 

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 grapes compare to other foods in terms of carbon footprint. 

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

Relative to other fruits, grapes have a fairly high 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 grapes 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, grapes have the second-highest carbon footprint on this list. They are not as high as avocados, but they still pack a punch compared to other fruits. They have three times the carbon footprint of apples, bananas, and mangoes, and ten times the carbon footprint of clementines and watermelons. As a result, we have a fruit that is certainly not the most carbon-conscious of the bunch. 

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

Branching outside the world of fruit, grapes 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 grapes 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

One big factor that raises the carbon footprint of grapes when kilocalories are taken into account is calories per pound: 

  • Grapes pack around 300 calories per pound
  • whereas bananas have around 400 calories per pound
  • meaning that bananas are more carbon efficient for the calories they provide.
  • Thus, grapes are not only a high-carbon fruit when it comes to general carbon footprint, but also carbon footprint and kilocalories. 

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

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

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

Before you start worrying about your offsets, you might be wondering how you can stop producing carbon in the first place through your grape consumption. One of the best ways to do this is to look at the parts of the grape process that have the highest carbon footprint and start there. In this section, we will use this method to give you a short list of ways you can reduce your grape carbon footprint, all so you can continue consuming grapes without the high carbon price tag.

  1. Avoid grape packaging: One of the biggest contributors to grapes’ carbon footprint is packaging. This is particularly true for packaging made from plastic and styrofoam, which have far lower recycling rates than cardboard. Buying grapes without packaging is one of the best ways to lower your grape carbon footprint. If you have to buy grapes with packaging, try to make it cardboard, since it is much easier to recycle. And as always, reduction is better than nothing!
  2. Buy organic grapes: Another major contributor to grapes’ carbon footprint is pesticides. Organic farms commit to avoiding chemicals like pesticides and thus have lower carbon emissions. So if you switch to buying organic grapes, you will be reducing your carbon footprint in the pesticide department. 
  3. Recycle and compost: It’s true that organic waste has a low composting rate and many materials have low recycling rates, but you can still try to do something about that! As the consumer, you have the most control over the end-of-life stage, and so making the effort to dispose of your grape waste—both organic and packaging—properly can really help to reduce your carbon footprint. This means recycling all cardboard, plastic, and styrofoam if you can, and composting all organic waste. If your municipality doesn’t have a composting system, you could try DIY composting in your backyard!

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

Final Thoughts

Grapes are tasty and versatile. However, they have a high carbon footprint compared to other fruits because of their high pesticide usage, refrigeration requirements, and high levels of packaging. By purchasing organic produce and committing yourself to recycling all waste and packaging, you can enjoy grapes without the associated high carbon footprint.

Stay impactful,

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