What Is the Carbon Footprint of Mangoes? A Life-Cycle Analysis
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With over 43 million tons of mangoes produced on a global scale, you could say they’re a fairly popular fruit. They are sourced from all over the world, including South Asia, Peru, Egypt, and West Africa, and can be used in anything from chutneys to delicious desserts. But there is also a significant carbon cost to the average person’s mango consumption. Many aspects of the mango production process can greatly contribute to their carbon footprint. So, we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of mangoes?
Mangoes have a carbon footprint of 0.21 kg (0.46 lbs) CO2e per pound of mangoes. The main factors that contribute to this number are the mechanized production process, the usage of non-biodegradable/non-recyclable materials in packaging, and aviation transportation.
In this article, we will look at the full life cycle of the mango, investigating how each stage contributes to its carbon footprint. We will go through each of the main stages of the mango’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 mango’s carbon footprint to determine the overall impact of the mango. So, let’s get into the carbon footprint of the mango!
Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Mangoes
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 mangoes:
- This includes GHG emissions from producing the products that we use and foods that we eat (e.g., power plants, factories or farms, and landfills)
- GHG emissions from fuel that we burn directly or indirectly (e.g., logistics and transportation, cooling or heating facilities),
- as well as the GHG emissions attributed to how we consume these products and foods.
To understand the carbon footprint of mangoes, 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 Mangoes
The overall carbon footprint of mangoes is 0.21 kg (0.46 lbs) CO2e per pound of mangoes. Their transportation methods, styrofoam packaging, and energy-consuming production are the main contributors to their footprint. Besides these factors, the growth practices are actually very carbon-conscious. Overall, they rank moderately on the scale of fruit carbon footprints.
Mangoes are tangy, sweet, and creamy, but there are quite a few aspects of their production process that can drive up their carbon footprint. From the methods used in their harvesting to how far they need to travel to your door. So, let’s examine how all these factors combine to form the overall carbon footprint of the mango.
|The carbon footprint of mangoes||0.21 kg (0.46 lbs) CO2e per pound of mangoes|
So, let’s have a look at each stage of the LCA of mangoes!
|The life-cycle stages of mangoes||Each stage’s carbon footprint|
|Growing of mangoes||The growth stage of mangoes has a very low carbon footprint. On multiple counts—tree carbon sequestering, dense growth, low irrigation, and low pesticide use—mangoes keep their footprint down during this part of the process.|
|Harvesting, processing, and packaging of mangoes||Harvesting, processing, and packaging mangoes contribute significantly to their carbon footprint. This is mainly due to the fact that they require electricity and chemicals in their production process and use more packaging than other fruits.|
|Transporting of mangoes||86% of mangoes consumed in the US are produced in Mexico. However, their short shelf life means that they have to be transported by air. This skyrockets the transportation portion of their carbon footprint.|
|End-of-life of mangoes||The disposal of mangoes has a high waste carbon footprint, since their packaging is generally non-recyclable and tends to end up in landfills.|
As we can see, growth has a very minimal impact on the mango’s carbon footprint, while transportation and production rank high. These are the bigger summaries of each stage of the mango’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 mango’s production process.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Mangoes
The growth stage of mangoes has a very low carbon footprint. On multiple counts—tree carbon sequestering, dense growth, low irrigation and low pesticide use—mangoes keep their footprint down during this part of the process.
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 mango industry.
Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing mangoes?
- How do mangoes grow: Mangoes grow on trees, which is good news for their carbon footprint. Trees naturally sequester carbon, so some of the mango’s emissions will be offset. In fact, one source claims that in Mexico, this carbon sequestering actually offsets the emissions for the rest of the production process, making mangoes actually carbon positive!
- What is the growth duration of mangoes: A mango tree takes about 5-8 years before it’s completely mature and can bear fruit. This is longer than both apple trees and lemon trees. An individual mango will then take about 3-5 months from flower to ripe fruit.
- What is the land usage of mangoes: Mango orchards are exceptionally dense, being able to fit 400–1600 trees per hectare, depending on the variety. This is anywhere from double to eight times as dense as apple orchards, which can only fit 250 plants per hectare. This means that land usage is not a major contributor to the mango’s carbon footprint.
- What is the water usage of mangoes: Mangoes need relatively little water, from 26–52 inches per year. However, Mexico, which supplies most of the US’s mangoes, only gets around 28 inches of rain per year, meaning that Mexican mangoes do need irrigation which drives up their carbon footprint.
- What is the pesticide and fertilizer usage of mangoes: Mangoes do not use a significant amount of pesticides. In fact, Healthline ranked mangoes #9 on their list of “clean” fruits with low pesticide rates, after finding that 78% of mangoes did not have significant pesticide residue on their skins. Therefore, mangoes are a carbon-conscious fruit when it comes to pesticides.
Mangoes are exceptional when it comes to carbon-conscious growing practices. Between their dense land use practices, minimal irrigation, and lack of significant pesticides, they have one of the lowest emission growth processes amongst fruit.
In short, growing mangoes has a very low carbon footprint. This is mainly because the trees sequester a lot of carbon, the irrigation is minimal, the land use is dense, and there aren’t many pesticides used.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Harvesting, Processing, and Packaging Mangoes
Harvesting, processing, and packaging mangoes contribute significantly to their carbon footprint. This is mainly due to the fact that they require electricity and chemicals in their production process and use more packaging than other fruits.
The next major stage in the mango growth process is harvesting, processing, and packaging, which 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 mangoes affects their carbon footprint.
Which factors impact the carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging mangoes?
- How are mangoes harvested: Mangoes are typically harvested by hand, using non-electrical tools like picking poles and nets. This is good news for their carbon footprint, since the process doesn’t require any electricity to run.
- How are mangoes processed: Unfortunately, mangoes have a fairly short shelf life, meaning that there tend to be significant losses during the processing period. To aid this, mango manufacturers often treat their mangoes with cooling (requiring electricity) or with chemical treatments. Thus, the processing part of mango manufacturing does contribute to their carbon footprint.
- How are mangoes packaged: Mangoes have very sensitive skin, and because of their short shelf life, manufacturers can’t risk them getting damaged. So, alongside the use of sectioned-off cardboard boxes, they also often have cushioning made from straw, wool, or even Styrofoam. Since these materials emit carbon during their production process, they contribute significantly to the mango’s carbon footprint.
During the processing period of mangoes, there are some ups and downs. The harvesting stage has zero emissions, but the electricity involved in the processing and the excessive packaging mean that this stage drives up their overall carbon footprint.
In short, the carbon footprint of mango harvesting, processing, and packaging is moderate. It is lowered by the zero-carbon harvesting process, but raised by the electricity involved in processing, as well as the use of cardboard/styrofoam packaging.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Mangoes
86% of mangoes consumed in the US are produced in Mexico. However, their short shelf life means that they have to be transported by air. This skyrockets the transportation portion of their carbon footprint.
A mango’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 mangoes contributes to their overall carbon footprint.
Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting mangoes?
- Where are mangoes grown: India is the world’s biggest mango producer. However, the main mango supplier to the US is actually Mexico. There are also mangoes grown in the country, especially in Southern Florida and California, but to a lesser degree. Thus, there is still a significant distance for mangoes to travel, especially if you live in one of the Northern states.
- How are mangoes transported: Mangoes are generally transported in refrigerated containers, usually by air. This is bad news for their carbon footprint. Not only do refrigerated containers use far more energy than unrefrigerated, but air travel also has a far higher carbon footprint than truck or shipping travel. So, the means of transporting mangoes has a significant impact on their carbon footprint.
Mangoes are mainly produced in a neighboring country, as well as domestically. However, the method of transportation—air travel—drives up their carbon footprint.
In short, transportation contributes significantly to the mango’s carbon footprint. This is mainly due to the use of air travel in the transportation process.
What Is the Carbon Footprint of the End-of-Life of Mangoes
Disposal of mangoes has a high waste carbon footprint, since their packaging is generally non-recyclable and tends to end up in landfills.
The mango’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 mango is how its waste is disposed of. Here, we will look at how this stage in the process affects the mango’s carbon footprint.
Which factors impact the carbon footprint of the end-of-life of mangoes?
- How are mangoes disposed of: All of the mango’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. So not only is the waste not being composted, it is also causing additional harm to the environment.
- How is the packaging of mangoes disposed of: Mangos have two types of packaging: recyclable cardboard and non-recyclable styrofoam. Styrofoam can last up to 500 years in a landfill, unable to biodegrade. Cardboard, however, is significantly better, with a decent 89% being recycled. So, the carbon footprint of the packaging of mangoes will depend on the type of material used.
Mangoes have a big strike against them because of their non-biodegradable/non-recyclable packaging. However, even the components of their packaging that are recyclable or biodegradable are still likely to end up in landfill, contributing significantly to their carbon footprint.
In short, the end-of-life impact for mangoes is high. This is largely due to the fact that a component of their packaging is not biodegradable or recyclable. Furthermore, even most biodegradable and recyclable materials end up in landfills which drives up the carbon footprint.
How Does the Carbon Footprint of Mangoes Compare to Other Types of Food
Compared to other foods, mangoes are actually very carbon-efficient. This is especially true when emissions per calorie are taken into account, since mangoes pack more calories per pound than a lot of other fruits. However, from a purely emissions per pound perspective, and compared simply to other fruits, mangoes rank moderately on the carbon emissions scale.
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 mangoes compare to other foods in terms of carbon footprint.
How Does the Carbon Footprint of Mangoes 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 mangoes compare specifically to other fruits in terms of carbon footprint.
|Avocados||0.85 kg (1.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados|
|Kiwis||0.4 kg (0.89 lb) of CO2e per pound of kiwis|
|Plums||0.4 kg (0.88 lbs) CO2e per pound of plums|
|Oranges||0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound of oranges|
|Mangoes||0.21 kg (0.46 lbs) CO2e per pound of mangoes|
|Apples||0.18 kg (0.40 lb) of CO2e per pound of apples|
|Peaches||0.17kg (0.38lbs) CO2e per pound of peaches|
|Strawberries||0.12 kg (0.26 lb) of CO2e per pound of strawberries|
|Bananas||0.11 kg (0.24 lb) of CO2e per pound of bananas|
|Pineapples||0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapple|
|Lemons||0.09kg (0.19lbs) CO2e per pound of lemons|
As we can see, mangoes rank around the middle of the road compared to other fruits. They emit around ¼ of the emissions of the highest carbon-emitting fruit—the avocado—meaning that they are a far more carbon-conscious choice. However, it is important to remember that they emit double the amount of carbon when compared to pineapples and lemons. On the whole, they are moderate on the overall carbon emissions scale.
How Does the Carbon Footprint of Mangoes Compare to Other Types of Food in General
Branching outside the world of fruit, mangoes 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 mangoes 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).
Though mangoes are not shown on this chart, we can place them next to apples, since they have a similar carbon footprint per pound. However, mangoes are slightly richer in calories, having around 295 calories in a pound to an apple’s 235. These extra 60 calories per pound mean that mangoes will actually be more carbon efficient from a carbon calorie perspective, putting them slightly below apples on this list. From that placement, we can see that mangoes actually rank fairly low compared to other foods, meaning that they are actually a carbon-conscious choice when emissions per calorie are taken into account.
How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint
There are many things you can do to cut down on how your mango 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 mangoes without having a large negative impact on the earth.
Some of the carbon risks of mangoes 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 mangoes. Purchasing organic or locally grown mangoes 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 Mangoes
Before you start worrying about your offsets, you might be wondering how you can stop producing carbon in the first place through your mango consumption. In this section, we will give you a short list of things you can do to continue consuming mangoes without the high carbon price tag.
- Buy mangoes without styrofoam: This might come at the cost of nicks and bruises, but omitting this non-recyclable and non-biodegradable substance from your mango footprint is crucial. One of the best ways to do this is to buy them individually from the grocery store, not in packs. You can also try buying them from a local farmer’s market, especially if you live in Florida or California, which tend to use less packaging.
- Buy local mangoes: Hopefully, if you are buying mangoes grown in your state, they won’t be brought in by air, but by truck. This can greatly reduce one of the biggest contributors to their carbon footprint. If you live in a mango-producing state, this won’t be too hard. However, if you live in a Northern state, consider seeking out trucked or shipped mangoes to cut down on your aviation footprint.
- Compost and recycle: Another major contributor to the mango’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 mango 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 mango 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 mangoes. 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 mangoes – 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 mangoes, 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.
Mangoes, overall, are on the lower end of carbon-conscious fruits. They are excellent on the growing side, because they sequester a lot of carbon from the air, often more than they produce. However, it is their short shelf life and weak skin that starts to drive up their footprint. These qualities mean they need to be treated with cooling and chemicals after being picked and wrapped in styrofoam packaging, both of which significantly contribute to their carbon footprint. Furthermore, they also often need to be flown to their destination—in refrigerated planes no less—to get them to the supermarket before they expire.
Thus, despite a strong start, mangoes still acquire a significant amount of carbon emissions. That being said, they are still on the lower end, making them a moderately carbon-conscious choice!
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