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

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

By
Teresa Mersereau

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Papayas are a soft, sweet fruit native to Mexico. Today, they are grown everywhere from Florida to Hawaii. Papayas are also highly versatile. For example, they are commonly used in salads, desserts, and ice creams. But papayas can also have a significant impact on the earth. The processes used in their growth, transportation, and disposal can rack up some serious emissions. So, we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of papayas?

Papayas have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.3kg (0.67lb) of CO2e per pound of papayas. This is mainly because of their refrigerated shipping from Mexico, use of styrofoam packaging, high irrigation requirements, and low composting rates. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Papayas

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 papayas:

To understand the carbon footprint of papayas, 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 Papayas

The overall carbon footprint of papayas is moderate at 0.3kg (0.67lb) of CO2e per pound of papayas. The main factors that contribute to this are the use of styrofoam packaging, international refrigerated shipping, and their high irrigation needs. 

Papayas do a lot right when it comes to their carbon footprint. For example, they yield more than average per hectare, they don’t use a lot of pesticides, and they are grown in North America. However, there are still many things they do to rack up significant carbon emissions.

The carbon footprint of papayas0.3kg (0.67lb) of CO2e per pound of papayas

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

The life-cycle stages of papayasEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of papayasThe carbon footprint of growing papayas is low. Despite high irrigation requirements, papayas have an economical growth yield, short growth duration, and low pesticide use. 
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of papayasThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging papayas is moderate. This is caused by the energy used during their processing and their use of styrofoam packaging. 
Transporting of papayasThe carbon footprint of transporting papayas is moderate. This is because they need to be transported from Mexico in refrigerated cargo containers. 
End-of-life of papayasThe carbon footprint of the end-of-life of papayas is high because of their low composting rates and use of styrofoam packaging. 

The stage that contributes the most to papayas’ carbon footprint is waste management. This is mainly because they use styrofoam packaging, but also because of low composting rates among food waste. Harvesting and transporting are also significant because of the energy used in processing and refrigeration. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Papayas

The carbon footprint of growing papayas is low. Despite high irrigation requirements, papayas have an economical growth yield, short growth duration, and low pesticide use. 

The process of growing papayas generally has a 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 papayas?

  • How do papayas grow: Papayas grow on small trees in subtropical climates. These trees have excellent carbon sequestering properties, which helps to offset some of their emissions by storing carbon. As a result, this stage has a very low carbon footprint. 
  • What is the growth duration of papayas: The longer the growth frame, the higher the carbon footprint because more resources are required to sustain the plants. Papaya plants can start producing fruit in the first year of growth, as early as 7 months after planting. This is incredibly fast for a tree fruit, which tend to not produce fruit until 3–4 years after planting, such as apricot trees. Individual papayas can go from flower to fruit in as little as 3 months. This is also on the shorter side amongst plants. For example, pineapples take around 12 months to grow. Therefore, the growth duration of papayas contributes minimally to their overall carbon footprint. 
  • What is the land usage of papayas: When fruits use less land, they require less deforestation and resources to sustain them. Papayas yield around 60–75 tons per hectare. This is incredibly high for fruits, given that watermelons have a yield of only around 2–3 tons per hectare. Therefore, this stage is also a very minor contributor to papayas’ carbon footprint. 
  • What is the water usage of papayas: Papayas need around 1–2 inches of water per week. Most papayas consumed in the US are grown in Mexico, which only gets around 28 inches of rain per year. This is a far cry from the 52–104 inches papayas need and therefore they require a lot of irrigation. Irrigation has a high carbon footprint and so this stage contributes significantly to papayas’ overall footprint. 
  • What is the pesticide and fertilizer usage of papayas: Papayas use a very low amount of pesticides, being included on a list of the lowest pesticide users. This is due to a genetic modification that has made them naturally resistant to certain pests. Because of this, papayas avoid the high carbon footprint that comes with pesticides. This stage then has a low carbon footprint. 

Papayas do well in a lot of categories. To help reduce your papaya carbon footprint further, you can purchase papayas grown in Florida, which is much rainier and so less irrigation is required. 

In short, the irrigation requirements of papayas do raise their carbon footprint. But if you take into account how much they yield per hectare, how quickly they grow, and how few pesticides they use, their carbon footprint in this area is low overall. 

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

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging papayas is moderate. This is caused by the energy used during their processing and their use of styrofoam packaging. 

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

  • How are papayas harvested: Papayas are typically harvested by hand. Manual harvesting doesn’t require energy to run. Therefore, papayas have a very low carbon footprint at this stage. 
  • How are papayas processed: Papayas are processed using temperature treatment to kill pests. This treatment involves submerging them in hot water. Since heating up water requires energy, this stage has a moderate carbon footprint. 
  • How are papayas packaged: Papayas are generally packaged using two main materials: cardboard for the boxes and styrofoam for the cushioned sleeves. Both cardboard and styrofoam have high production carbon footprints. Thus, this stage plays a significant role in papayas’ carbon footprint. 

Papayas have some areas where they could use improvement in the carbon department. Buying papayas with as little packaging as possible is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint for this stage. 

In short, the fact that papayas use so much packaging, especially styrofoam packaging, and require energy to process means that their carbon footprint in this stage is moderate. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting Papayas

The carbon footprint of transporting papayas is moderate. This is because they need to be transported from Mexico in refrigerated cargo containers. 

Papayas’ 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 papayas?

The international shipping of fruit has a high carbon footprint. If you want to lower your carbon footprint in this area, you should try to buy domestic papayas to cut down on travel times and fuel. 

In short, the use of refrigeration in the transport process, and the international shipping distances all drive up papayas’ carbon footprint. 

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

The carbon footprint of the end-of-life of papayas is high because of their low composting rates and use of styrofoam packaging. 

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

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

  • How are papayas disposed of: Papayas have peels that are generally not eaten. These are technically compostable, but since only 4% of food is actually composted, they are likely to end up in landfill. Furthermore, when food is put in landfill, it creates methane, which is a greenhouse gas. Thus, this stage contributes significantly to papayas’ carbon footprint. 
  • How is the packaging of papayas disposed of: Papayas use both cardboard and styrofoam in their packaging. Cardboard can be recycled and has a very high recycling rate at 89%. However, styrofoam has an extremely low recycling rate, at around 1%. Even worse, styrofoam takes around 500 years to break down effectively. Mainly because of styrofoam, the carbon footprint of this stage is high. 

The packaging involved in papaya distribution is a big problem. Buying papayas without packaging or at least without styrofoam packaging, will help you to keep your carbon footprint low in this area. 

In short, the incredibly low recycling rates of styrofoam, as well as the low composting rates of food waste mean that papayas have a high waste carbon footprint. 

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

Papayas have a moderate carbon footprint compared to other fruits and when compared to foods in general. With fruit, however, they are in the higher middle, whereas compared to foods in general, they are in the lower middle. This is because fruit as a category generally has a lower carbon footprint. 

Papayas have a moderate carbon footprint compared to 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 papayas compare to other foods in terms of carbon footprint.

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Papayas Compare to Other Types of Fruits/Vegetables/Nuts

Papayas have an average carbon footprint when compared 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 papayas compare specifically to other fruits in terms of carbon footprint. 

FruitsCarbon Footprint
Avocados0.85 kg (1.9 lb) of CO2e per pound of avocados
Cantaloupe0.58kg (1.3lb) of CO2e per pound of cantaloupe
Kiwis0.56kg (1.24lb) of CO2e per pound of kiwis
Blueberries0.45kg (1lb) of CO2e per pound of blueberries
Plums0.4 kg (0.88 lb) CO2e per pound of plums
Strawberries0.39kg (0.88lb) of CO2e per pound of strawberries
Figs0.3kg (0.68lb) of CO2e per pound of figs
Papayas0.3kg (0.67lb) of CO2e per pound of papayas
Oranges0.3kg (0.66 lb) CO2e per pound of oranges
Apples0.24 kg (0.53 lb) of CO2e per pound of apples
Pears0.23kg (0.52 lb) of CO2e per pound of pears
Bananas0.21 kg (0.48 lb) of CO2e per pound of banana
Mangoes0.21 kg (0.46 lb) CO2e per pound of mangoes
Cherries0.19kg (0.41 lb) of CO2e per pound of cherries
Limes0.18kg (0.39lb) of CO2e per pound of limes
Peaches0.17kg (0.38lb) CO2e per pound of peaches
Apricots0.16kg (0.36lb) of CO2e per pound of apricots
Raspberries0.15kg (0.33lb) of CO2e per pound of raspberries
Pineapples0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapple
Lemons0.09kg (0.19lb) CO2e per pound of lemons
Grapefruit0.08kg (0.18lb) of CO2e per pound of grapefruit
Blackberries0.07kg (0.15lb) of CO2e per pound of blackberries
Clementines0.06 kg (0.13 lb) CO2e per pound of clementines
Watermelons0.05kg (0.11 lb) of CO2e per pound of watermelon

Papayas are in the top half of fruits by ranking, but their carbon footprint is moderate when you look at the numbers. Though they have around 5–6 times the carbon footprint of the lowest emitters—clementines and watermelons—they still have almost â…“ of the emissions of avocados, the highest emitters. Their carbon footprint is on the higher side of the average among fruits. 

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

Papayas have a moderate carbon footprint when kilocalories are taken into account. They are similar to citrus fruit in kilocalories and so rank alongside them in the lower middle of the 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

Papayas have a very similar carbon footprint per pound to oranges, so we can extrapolate that they would sit around the citrus fruit point on this graph. 

  • Papayas and oranges also have a very similar calorie density, which affects their carbon footprint when it is measured per kilocalorie instead of weight.
  • Papayas have around 200 calories per pound and oranges have around 215 calories per pound.
  • This means that, even when kilocalories are taken into account, papayas have a similar carbon footprint to citrus. 
  • Since citrus sits at around the middle of the chart, papayas have a fairly moderate carbon footprint compared to other foods. 

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

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

Some of the carbon risks of papayas 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 papayas. Purchasing organic or locally-grown papayas 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 Papayas

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

  1. Buy American papayas: When it comes to carbon footprint in relation to transportation, the closer the fruit is grown to you, the better. To cut down on distances, try to buy American-grown papayas, which will have to travel much smaller distances. Furthermore, papayas grown in the US are primarily grown in Florida. Unlike Mexico, Florida gets an average of 54 inches of rain per year, which is within the range papayas need. Therefore, buying Floridian papayas will not only cut down on the distance traveled, but also irrigation requirements. So, you can reduce your carbon footprint in more than one way by purchasing US papayas. 
  2. Avoid packaging: Considering the low recycling rates, especially for styrofoam, packaging contributes significantly to papaya’s carbon footprint. If you try to avoid packaging as much as possible, you will not only be reducing the emissions required to create the packaging, but also those associated with landfill waste. 
  3. Use the whole papaya: Papaya peels might not be very tasty, but they can actually be very useful! There are many ways to use them that can help them avoid the landfill. One way is to use them for skincare by creating a papaya face mask. These extra uses can really help to cut down on waste and maximize usage. Plus, it avoids you buying a store-bought face mask which would likely come with plastic packaging!

Following some of these methods can really help you to cut down on your papaya 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 papaya 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 papayas. 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 papayas – 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 papayas, 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 2023 List” to find the best carbon offset providers for your personal carbon emissions and those associated to, e.g., eating papayas.

Final Thoughts

Papayas are a great tropical fruit, but there are a lot of areas in which they can create significant carbon emissions. Irrigation, mechanization, refrigeration, and low composting and recycling rates all combine to create a moderate to high carbon footprint for these fruits. Fortunately, taking steps like buying local papayas, avoiding packaging, and finding uses for their food waste can all help you to reduce your papaya carbon footprint. This combined with carbon offsets can lead to you being a super responsible papaya consumer!

Stay impactful,

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