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

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

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:14 Minutes

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Around 688,8000 tonnes of peaches are produced in the US every year. Whether you enjoy some juicy peaches during August (National Peach Month!) or appreciate them as an excellent source of vitamins A and C, it’s important to understand their impact on the environment. There are actually more potential carbon emissions in peaches than you might expect. So we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of peaches?

The carbon footprint of peaches is 0.17kg (0.38lbs) CO2e per pound of peaches. The main factors contributing to this number are the long transportation distances, the amount of pesticides used, and improper waste disposal. However, peaches are still moderate on the scale of fruit carbon footprints.

In this article, we will be assessing the overall carbon footprint of peaches using a full life cycle analysis. What this means is that we will be going through the main stages in a peach’s journey from growth to trash and examining each of their carbon footprints. We will discuss irrigation and harvesting to transportation and waste management, to determine the carbon footprint of a peach. So, let’s get into the stages of the peach’s carbon footprint!

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Peaches

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 peaches:

To understand the carbon footprint of peaches, 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 Peaches

The overall carbon footprint of peaches is 0.17kg (0.38lbs) CO2e per pound of peaches. This is mainly due to their transportation and waste management. The vast distances required to get peaches into American grocery stores drives their carbon footprint up considerably. However, in other areas, they can be quite sustainable. 

Peaches are a great snack, but they also have their own impact on the earth. There are a lot of small factors along the way that can build up and contribute to a large carbon footprint. From potential hidden waste to pesticides and unsustainable farming practices. So, let’s see how all those factors work together to form a whole. 

The carbon footprint of peaches0.17kg (0.38lbs) CO2e per pound of peaches

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

The life-cycle stages of peachesEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of peachesThe carbon footprint of growing peaches is moderate, mainly because of the large pesticide use. However, this impact is offset by their dense-growing practices and low need for irrigation. 
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of peachesThe harvesting, processing, and packaging aspects of peach production are relatively low. The main contributing factor is the machine emissions produced during the sorting, cleaning, and waxing of picked peaches. 
Transporting of peachesMost peaches are produced in China and Spain. So, they have a very high transportation carbon footprint, because of the great distances they need to travel. Peaches also need to be transported in refrigerated containers which increases their carbon footprint even further. 
End-of-life of peachesUnfortunately, peach waste often ends up in landfill, rather than being recycled or composted. This drives up the carbon footprint of this stage. Disposing of your peaches in a more sustainable way will help to lower the overall carbon footprint.

Each of these measurements represent the overall summary of how the stages contribute relatively to the overall carbon footprint of peaches. However, this is only one small part of the story. In the next few sections, we will dive deeper into how each aspect of the peach production and consumption process contributes to its overall carbon footprint. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Peaches

The carbon footprint of growing peaches is moderate, mainly because of the large pesticide use. However, this impact is offset by their dense-growing practices and low need for irrigation. 

Peaches originated in China and this country is still the highest producer of peaches today. However, peaches have also spread throughout the globe and are now grown in many countries, including Spain, Italy, and the US. The growth process of many tree-based fruits tends to be fairly low in carbon, due to the carbon-storing properties of trees. However, there are still a myriad of factors that can cause their growth to contribute to their carbon footprint. Here, we will look at that growth process in more detail.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing peaches?

Peaches have low irrigation needs and dense growing practices. So, they have a relatively small carbon footprint in their growing stage. However, they do contain a considerable amount of pesticides, which raise their growth carbon footprint. 

In short, the growth carbon footprint of peaches is moderate, mainly owing to the large pesticide use. But this is offset by their dense-growing practices and low requirement for water. 

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

The harvesting, processing, and packaging aspects of peach production are relatively low. The main contributing factor is the machine emissions produced during the sorting, cleaning, and waxing of picked peaches.

Harvesting, processing, and packaging are actually very important to the carbon footprint of any fruit, including peaches. Here, we will discuss how peaches are harvested and processed and evaluate the carbon footprint of this aspect of the process. 

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

  • How are peaches harvested: Due to their very delicate skins, peaches have to be harvested by hand. This is good news because hand-picking fruit is actually much more carbon-conscious than machine harvesting, which produces emissions. Therefore, the picking process of peaches has an incredibly low carbon footprint. 
  • How are peaches processed: During the processing period, peaches are led through a series of machines which sort, clean, and wax them to increase their shelf life and make them presentable to buyers. These machines produce emissions, making this part of the process a moderate offender in terms of the peach’s carbon footprint. 
  • How are peaches packaged: Peaches are typically packaged in cardboard boxes that have corrugated trays to fit each peach. This is likely due to their skin sensitivity, which might affect shelf life if broken. Due to the emissions needed to produce this packaging, the packing stage does contribute to the peach’s overall carbon footprint. 

During the harvesting, processing, and packaging stages of peach production, they do accrue a minor carbon footprint. This is mainly due to the machine energy needed to process them and the emissions involved in the creation of cardboard boxes. But other than that, peaches are processed with a fairly low carbon footprint. 

In short, the harvesting, processing, and packaging aspects of peach production are relatively low because they are hand-picked. However, the sorting process does involve machinery which increases the overall carbon footprint.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Peaches

Most peaches are produced in China and Spain. So, they have a very high transportation carbon footprint, because of the great distances they need to travel. Peaches also need to be transported in refrigerated containers which increases their carbon footprint even further. 

In general terms, the biggest contributor, and biggest variable, in the carbon footprint of food is often its transportation. How food is transported and to what distance is one of the most important aspects of a food’s carbon footprint. Here, we will look at how this factor affects the overall carbon footprint of peaches. 

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting peaches?

  • Where are peaches grown: Peaches are grown all over the globe, but the biggest peach producers are China, Spain, Italy, Greece, and the US, with China outperforming the next-highest (Spain) tenfold. This is bad news for Americans, since their peaches have to travel thousands of miles, acquiring a large carbon footprint along the way. Peaches produced in the USA, however, will have a much smaller footprint. 
  • How are peaches transported: Peaches are generally kept at low temperatures to extend shelf life. So, they need to be transported in refrigerated containers, which have a higher carbon footprint than unrefrigerated ones. Thus, the peach transportation method contributes significantly to their carbon footprint. 

Overall, transportation is the biggest contributor to the peach’s carbon footprint. Most peaches consumed by Americans have to travel from China in refrigerated containers, which significantly increases their carbon footprint. 

In short, peaches have a very high transportation carbon footprint, owing to the long distances they need to travel and the electricity used in that travel. 

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

Unfortunately, peach waste often ends up in landfill, rather than being composted. This drives up the carbon footprint of this stage. Disposing of your peaches in a more sustainable way will help to lower the overall carbon footprint.

You might think the story is over when the peach gets to your house, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The way that peach waste is disposed of is a crucial part of their carbon footprint. Improper disposal can mean a much higher carbon footprint than proper disposal. So, let’s see how peach waste disposal affects their end-of-life carbon footprint. 

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

  • How are peaches disposed of: Peaches have large pits which cannot be eaten by humans. These pits are biodegradable and compostable. However, the unfortunate reality is that most food waste, around 96%, is actually sent to landfills, including peach pits. Food waste in landfills releases methane, which is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. 
  • How is the packaging of peaches disposed of: Peaches 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 peach.

In a perfect world, peach pits would be composted and all their packaging recycled. But because of the dismal statistics about composting, it is likely that your peach waste is going directly to landfills, which dramatically raises their carbon footprint. 

In short, peach waste does raise the overall carbon footprint of this fruit, due to the lack of composting efforts. However, disposing of your peaches in more sustainable ways can help to fix this issue. 

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

In comparison to most other foods, peaches are a relatively carbon-conscious choice, falling in the middle range of most foods. Essentially, there are many more carbon-conscious choices, like pineapples, but also choices that are a lot worse for the planet, like beef. 

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 peaches compare to other foods in terms of carbon footprint. 

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Peaches 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, variations in growing methods, and pesticide use can all add up to contribute to their carbon footprints. Here, we will look at how peaches compare specifically to other fruits in terms of carbon footprint. 

FruitsCarbon Footprint
Avocados0.85 kg (1.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados
Berries0.69 kg (1.52 lbs) of CO2e per pound of berries
Kiwis0.4 kg (0.89 lb) of CO2e per pound of kiwis
Oranges0.3kg (0.66 lbs) CO2e per pound of oranges
Apples0.18 kg (0.40 lb) of CO2e per pound of apples
Peaches0.17kg (0.38lbs) CO2e per pound of peaches
Strawberries0.12 kg (0.26 lb) of CO2e per pound of strawberries
Bananas0.11 kg (0.24 lb) of CO2e per pound of bananas
Plums0.10 kg (0.22 lb) of CO2e per pound of plums
Pineapples0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapple
Lemons0.09kg (0.19lbs) CO2e per pound of lemons

As we can see, peaches fall smack in the middle when it comes to their carbon footprint. They produce less than ÂĽ of the emissions of an avocado, but they are almost double that of the lowest two fruits, the pineapple, and the lemon. So, although peaches might not be the most carbon-conscious fruit you can buy, they still have relatively low emissions in the grand scheme of things.

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

Branching outside the world of fruit, peaches 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 peaches 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

According to the chart, peaches have a similar overall carbon footprint to an apple. However, given that peaches have only around 50 calories to an apple’s approximate 100, they could rank higher than apples when kilocalories are taken into account. Nevertheless, peaches still fall relatively low on this chart, meaning that they are generally a carbon-conscious choice.

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

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

Some of the carbon risks of peaches 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 peaches. Purchasing organic or locally grown peaches 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 Peaches

Before you start worrying about your offsets, you might be wondering how you can stop producing carbon in the first place through your peach consumption. In this section, we will give you a short list of things you can do to continue consuming peaches without the high carbon price tag. 

  1. Buy domestic peaches: Transporting peaches from China to the US is costly to the planet. If you make a point of buying peaches grown in the US or even Chile, you will greatly reduce this transportation distance and thus your peach carbon footprint. 
  2. Dispose of waste responsibly: The other biggest contributor to the peach’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 the cardboard as roughage.
  3. Grow your own: If you live in a warmer climate, or have access to a greenhouse, then you could consider growing your own peach tree. One tree can produce up to 150 pounds of peaches, which is more than enough for even the most avid peach lover. This will bring your transportation footprint down to nothing, which is the biggest chunk of emissions. 

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

Final Thoughts

Peaches may be tasty, but as we have seen through this article, their impact on the planet can be significant. There are many aspects of the peach production and disposal processes that can drive up the overall carbon footprint. The heavy use of pesticides, large transportation distances, and improper peach waste disposal are all major contributing factors. However, with reduction and offset measures, you can be well on your way to becoming a responsible peach consumer in no time!

Stay impactful,

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