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

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

By
Teresa Mersereau

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Oranges account for over 50% of the global citrus fruit production. Whether you hail from sunny Florida or just enjoy some marmalade with your breakfast, it’s important to understand the carbon footprint of oranges if you are a conscious eater. Like many other foods, there are lots of stages to the orange production process that could potentially be harmful to the climate. So we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of oranges?

Oranges have a relatively low carbon footprint of 0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound of oranges. The main contributors to their carbon footprint are transportation and waste production. In general, oranges are very sustainable, especially compared to most other fruits.

In this article, we dive into all the ways in which oranges could potentially be damaging to the environment, and as a result, drive up your carbon footprint. We will go through the entire life cycle of the orange, detailing how each step contributes to the orange’s overall impact. We will then talk about some of the ways in which you can reduce or offset this footprint so you can continue to eat oranges with a clear conscience!

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Oranges

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 gasses 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 oranges:

To understand the carbon footprint of oranges, 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 Oranges

The overall carbon footprint of oranges is around 0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound of oranges for oranges produced and consumed in the US. The main contributor to the carbon footprint of oranges is the mode and distance of transportation as well as waste disposal. The overall carbon footprint is relatively low, especially in comparison with other fruits. 

Oranges can be great for a refreshing snack, a homemade juice, or even a baking ingredient, but there is also a carbon cost. Luckily, compared to other fruits on the market, oranges are some of the most carbon-conscious. That being said, you should still be aware of the impact that they do have.

The carbon footprint of oranges0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound of oranges

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

The life-cycle stages of orangesEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of orangesThe carbon footprint of growing oranges is relatively low, especially compared to other citrus fruits. The main contributors are water usage and excessive pesticide use.
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of orangesThe carbon footprint of the harvesting, processing, and packaging of oranges is fairly small. The main things that contribute to its carbon footprint are the use of mechanical harvesting methods and the production of packaging materials. 
Transporting of orangesOranges that are eaten in America are mainly grown in the US. So, their transportation carbon costs are fairly low, depending on where you live. However, Brazil is still the largest producer of oranges worldwide. Oranges imported from Brazil will have a much larger carbon footprint because of fossil fuel heavy transportation methods such as air travel.
End-of-life of orangesOrange waste impact can be high, depending on how they are disposed of. Orange peel is biodegradable, however, most orange waste still ends up in landfills which has a significant impact on the overall carbon footprint of oranges. 

So, that’s the basics for each step, but there’s still a lot more to the story. In the next few sections, we’re going to break down each stage and get into how it contributes to the overall carbon footprint of oranges. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Oranges

The carbon footprint of growing oranges is relatively low, especially compared to other citrus fruits. The main contributors are water usage and excessive pesticide use.

The ways in which food is grown can have a huge impact on its carbon footprint. Factors like land use, water consumption, and pesticides can all greatly contribute to a fruit or vegetable’s carbon footprint. Here, we will look at how these factors specifically affect the orange production process. 

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing oranges?

Oranges are efficient to produce, and can actually be done sustainably. However, there are still some important things to look out for. The water and pesticide consumption of oranges are the biggest culprits hindering orange growth sustainability. 

In short, oranges rank relatively low compared to other fruits for their production carbon impact. However, the high pesticide usage means there could be more sustainability implemented in orange production. 

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

The carbon footprint of the harvesting, processing, and packaging of oranges is fairly small. The main things that contribute to its carbon footprint are the use of mechanical harvesting methods and the production of packaging materials. 

Oranges need to be picked and transformed into produce ready for retailers. But this process can actually contribute significantly to their carbon footprint. Let’s dive into the different processes involved at this stage and evaluate their relative carbon footprint.

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

  • How are oranges harvested: For the most part, oranges are harvested by hand. And in some regions, like the state of Texas, all oranges are harvested manually. That being said, there are some mechanical methods, which use energy, and thus more carbon. For example, continuous canopy shake and catch systems are sometimes used by large orange farms in Florida. 
  • How are oranges processed: There are two main aspects to the orange-packing process: sorting and preparing. Sorting weeds out unusable fruit which usually ends up in landfill. Preparing involves practices like waxing, cleaning, and sometimes even coloring. All of these aspects have an effect on the overall carbon footprint of oranges. 
  • How are oranges packaged: Oranges have minimal packaging at the store, but in transit from farm to retail are usually stored in boxes and sometimes netted bags. These materials emit carbon in their production and can cause further problems in their waste management. 

Oranges have a minimal carbon footprint when they are being harvested and packed. However, certain practices like mechanical harvesting and the use of fossil fuel-based packaging can raise their carbon footprint considerably. 

In short, harvesting, processing, and packaging contributes fairly minimally to the carbon footprint of oranges. However, certain processes can be improved to reduce the carbon footprint even further, such as the waste management of unusable fruit. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Oranges

Oranges that are eaten in America are mainly grown in the US. So, their transportation carbon costs are fairly low, depending on where you live. However, Brazil is still the largest producer of oranges worldwide. Oranges imported from Brazil will have a much larger carbon footprint because of fossil fuel-heavy transportation methods such as air travel.

Once the oranges are ready to be sold, they need to be brought to your local grocery store. Transporting fruit usually requires refrigerated trucks or shipping, which can be costly to the environment, depending on how far they are being transported. Let’s have a look at how transportation contributes to oranges’ overall carbon footprint. 

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting oranges?

The distance and the ways in which your oranges are transported can significantly impact the overall carbon footprint of this fruit. Most oranges consumed in America are grown in Florida, however, they can also come from Brazil which has a much larger transportation carbon footprint. 

In short, oranges have a lower carbon footprint than many other fruits, since so many are grown domestically. However, the main issue with transportation is the increased fuel impact of the refrigerated trucks. 

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

Orange waste impact can be high, depending on how they are disposed of. Orange peel is biodegradable, however, most orange waste still ends up in landfills which has a significant impact on the overall carbon footprint of oranges. 

After you’re done with the orange, you are going to have waste, both in the form of the peel and any packaging. Even if you don’t come in contact with packaging, there might have been some used during the production and transportation process, which still contributes to your overall carbon footprint. So, here we are going to look more into where all this waste is actually going. 

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

  • How are oranges disposed of: Orange peels are completely biodegradable. However, many end up in landfill, which takes up valuable space and releases methane, a greenhouse gas. Only around 4% of food is composted, so waste is a big problem that can greatly affect a food’s carbon footprint. Pair that with the almost 4 million tons of citrus peels that are wasted every year and you get a lot of potential methane!
  • How is the packaging of oranges disposed of: Oranges sometimes come in cardboard boxes. But, since cardboard has the highest recycling rate of any recyclable material at 89%, the packaging is unlikely to end up in landfills, meaning that packaging does not contribute significantly to the overall carbon footprint of the orange.

Waste can contribute significantly to oranges’ overall carbon footprint. However, if you make the effort to compost all organic waste, your impact will be much lower. That being said, there is still prior waste from the production process that might be outside of your control. 

In short, orange waste disposal is a big problem around the world. Despite the recyclable cardboard packaging, a lack of widespread composting of orange waste leads to considerable carbon emissions.

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

Oranges have some of the lowest carbon footprints of any food out there. If you are going to consume food, then you can do little better than oranges. Their low transportation costs and efficient growth capabilities place it low on the overall scale of food carbon emissions. 

So now we know what the carbon footprint of oranges looks like in isolation, but there is still more to the story. Seeing what an orange’s carbon footprint looks like in relation to other foods can really help you gain perspective and make informed decisions about which foods to buy. So let’s have a look at the comparative carbon footprint of the orange. 

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

Fruit is generally considered to have a low carbon footprint, but there is still a fairly large range within fruit. When it comes to oranges, it can be really informative to compare them to some of the most popular fruits to show you how they hold up. Let’s dive into the relative carbon footprints between oranges and the other most popular fruits. 

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 per the chart, you can clearly see that oranges are well below many of the other fruits on the list. They are under a tenth of the carbon footprint of the average berry and around a quarter of avocados. So, if you are going to decide on a fruit, then oranges are some of the most sustainable. 

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

When we open the parameters wider, we can start to look at how oranges compare to the rest of the food world in terms of carbon footprint. As a fruit, oranges are generally lower, but how much lower? In this section, we’re going to compare oranges with the larger category of food in general and investigate their relative carbon footprint. 

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

Citrus fruits in general actually have a relatively high carbon footprint when it comes to the kilocalorie measurement. This is because at 73 calories an orange, they generally have less calories per unit than other fruits, such as apples, at 95 calories a unit

However, on a pure carbon footprint per unit measurement, oranges fall much lower and are generally one of the most sustainable fruits you can consume. 

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

Changing your habits and making an effort to buy more sustainable fruits like oranges can be one step to improve your carbon footprint. However, even with oranges there are methods you can use to reduce your carbon footprint even further. Reduction, responsible waste disposal, and carbon offsets are some ways to mitigate your orange carbon impact. 

Reading about the staggering carbon footprint of certain foods can be discouraging, even when the footprint is as low as the orange. However, there are actually a lot of ways you can make up for the impact you have through your food. After all, we all have to eat, so we should try to find a way to make up for the impact we have. In this section, we will show you some great ways to either reduce or offset your orange carbon footprint. 

How Can You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Shopping for Oranges

The decisions we make in the produce aisle can actually have a major impact on our carbon footprint, helping you to mitigate some of the carbon-contributing issues that we have talked about throughout this article. Here, we will give you a list of ways in which you can reduce your carbon footprint through your orange shopping. 

  1. Buy local oranges: Make sure that the oranges you are buying are produced in the US. Furthermore, you should try to see where in the US they are being produced. Living in a northern state means you will have to buy out-of-state oranges, but you could try to match coasts. For example, by buying Florida oranges if you live on the east coast and California oranges if you live on the west. Reducing travel times as much as possible is essential to reducing your orange carbon footprint. 
  2. Compost and recycle waste: Another big component you have control over when consuming oranges is what you do with the waste. Instead of throwing out the peels, think about composting them in your backyard or with a city composting system. If you buy oranges in bags or boxes, then make sure you recycle them when you are done. This will help reduce their part in the landfill and, most importantly, the methane that can come from it. 
  3. Mitigate waste: Besides orange peels, a lot of oranges are simply wasted. Make sure that you always eat your oranges before they go bad, and ensure you don’t buy more than you can consume. 
  4. Reuse waste: Even better than composting, why not try to use the whole orange? There are actually a lot of uses for orange peels, including candy, beauty products, and cleaning products.
  5. Buy waste-free oranges: If you see oranges at the supermarket that are packaged heavily and ones that are packaging-free, choose the packaging-free option to help reduce some of that extra waste.

These reduction methods can do a lot to mitigate your carbon footprint. Of course, none of these will actually bring your carbon footprint down to zero, which can be done if you purchase carbon offsets, which we will cover in the next section. 

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 oranges. 

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 oranges – 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 oranges, 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 oranges.

Final Thoughts

Oranges are a delicious fruit, and as we have learned here, actually a very sustainable one! There are of course some risks to consuming oranges, and there will always be some amount of environmental impact, depending on your consumption habits. But overall, you can rest assured that your orange habit is far better for the planet than a lot of other foods. If you are particularly concerned about some of the smaller risks, then you can certainly reduce your carbon footprint further. But overall, oranges are a great and sustainable fruit to enjoy!

Stay impactful,

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