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

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

By
Teresa Mersereau

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In an average year, over 25,000 tons of pears are consumed globally, making them an immensely popular fruit. They can be used in anything from elegant French pastries (Tarte Bourdaloue anyone?) to delicious juices. But there are also aspects of the pear production process that might be harmful to the planet. Many components from growing pears to delivering them to your supermarket can accrue a high carbon footprint. So, we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of pears?

Pears have a moderate carbon footprint of 0.23kg (0.52 lbs) of CO2e per pound of pears. This is mainly due to their high pesticide use, mechanized processing, intensive packaging needs, and poor recycling rates. Their carbon footprint is average compared to other fruits. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Pears

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 pears:

To understand the carbon footprint of pears, 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 Pears

The overall carbon footprint of pears is 0.23kg (0.52 lbs) of CO2e per pound of pears. The main factors that contribute to this carbon footprint are pesticides, packaging and packaging disposal, mechanization, and refrigeration. 

The carbon footprint of pears is moderate when compared with other fruits. However, there are a few factors that impact this, including the distance and method of transportation, as well as the type of pesticides used.

The carbon footprint of pears0.23kg (0.52 lbs) of CO2e per pound of pears

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

The life-cycle stages of pearsEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of pearsThe growth stage of pears has a very low carbon footprint. This is because of their low land requirements to grow, and the carbon-sequestering properties of pear trees. However, their excessive use of pesticides prevents them from being carbon-neutral at this stage.
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of pearsThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging pears is moderate. This is mainly due to the amount of packaging used and their mechanized processing methods. 
Transporting of pearsThe carbon footprint of transporting pears is low to moderate. Their domestic production brings the footprint down, however, the refrigeration required during transport releases a significant amount of carbon emissions which increases the overall footprint.
End-of-life of pearsThe end-of-life carbon footprint of pears is moderate to high. This is mainly because of the low composting rates for organic waste. Pears also require heavy packaging with styrofoam and cardboard. Styrofoam in particular has a very low recycling rate which drives up the carbon footprint of this stage.

As we can see from the table, processing and end-of-life are the two biggest contributors to pears’ carbon footprint, with the growth stage and the transportation stage having minor impacts. These are the bigger summaries of each stage of pears’ 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 pears’ production process.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Pears

The end-of-life carbon footprint of pears is moderate to high. This is mainly because of the low composting rates for organic waste and low composting rates for styrofoam packaging, though cardboard recycling rates are high. 

The process of growing pears generally has a very 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 pears?

  • How do pears grow: Pears grow on trees in orchards. This is good news for their carbon footprint because trees have natural carbon-sequestering properties. Thus, this part of the pear growing process has a very low carbon footprint. 
  • What is the growth duration of pears: The longer the growth frame, the higher the carbon footprint because more resources are required to sustain the plants. Pear trees take about 3 years before they start producing fruit and around 5-7 years before they are producing at their full capacity. In terms of individual pears, they take 3-5 months to go from bloom to fruit. Pears’ time frames are fairly average, meaning that this part of the growth process doesn’t contribute too significantly to pears’ overall carbon footprint. 
  • What is the land usage of pears: When fruits use less land, they require less deforestation and resources to sustain them. Pear orchards can generally yield 40-50 tons of pears per hectare. When you compare that to only 9.5 tons per hectare for cherries, pears exhibit an extremely economical use of space. This means that this stage does not contribute significantly to their carbon footprint. 
  • What is the water usage of pears: Pears require about 52 inches of water a year or one inch of water per week. Most pears grow in the Pacific Northwest US, which mostly has high rainfall averages. For example, Oregon, a top pear-growing state, gets around 75–90 inches of water per year. So, they require no carbon-heavy irrigation. Therefore, this stage of the process does not contribute significantly to the overall carbon footprint of pears.
  • What is the pesticide and fertilizer usage of pears: Pears were found to have significant pesticides on at least 75% of samples. This is considerably more than other tree fruits. Pesticides create a significant amount of emissions, so this stage does contribute to the overall carbon footprint. 

The growing stage of pears has a low carbon footprint overall. The only major source of carbon emissions are their significant use of pesticides. But otherwise, growing pears is a low-carbon component of their overall production process. 

In short, pears have a very small growth carbon footprint. Besides the high pesticide use, almost every part of the process is low-emissions. 

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

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging pears is moderate. This is mainly due to the amount of packaging used and their mechanized processing methods. 

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

  • How are pears harvested: Generally, pears are harvested by hand because their delicate skin cannot handle shake and catch machines. Therefore, the process of harvesting pears is very carbon efficient.
  • How are pears processed: Pears are sorted and processed mechanically, in a gentle assembly line so as not to harm the skin. They are also chilled immediately to help with shelf life. This part of the process uses energy and therefore contributes significantly to pears’ overall carbon footprint. 
  • How are pears packaged: Pears are often packaged in sectioned cardboard boxes, sometimes with individual styrofoam pockets around each pear, to keep them safe. Both cardboard and styrofoam create carbon emissions during their production process and so this stage contributes significantly to pears’ overall carbon footprint. 

Pears are harvested by hand, which can go a long way towards saving on carbon emission. However, they have a mechanical processing method and use a lot of packaging during their production process. Because of these factors, this stage’s carbon footprint is moderate to high. 

In short, pears have a considerable processing carbon footprint.They are harvested by hand, but their processing methods are mechanized and their packaging levels are very high. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Pears

The carbon footprint of transporting pears is low to moderate. Their domestic production brings the footprint down, however, the refrigeration required during transport releases a significant amount of carbon emissions which increases the overall footprint.

Pears’ 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 pears?

  • Where are pears grown: Most pears consumed in the US are grown in California, Oregon, and Washington. This is very good news for their carbon footprint because it means that they have a much smaller distance to travel than fruits from other continents. However, it is still important to bear in mind that the US is a very large country and most of the population lives in the Eastern half. Thus, many Americans will still be eating pears that have traveled thousands of miles. So, your pear’s carbon footprint largely depends on where in the country you live. 
  • How are pears transported: Pears are transported in refrigerated trucks. Unfortunately, refrigerated trucks use considerably more fuel than unrefrigerated trucks, meaning that this stage does contribute significantly to pears’ carbon footprint. 

Being a domestic fruit, pears have a fairly low transportation footprint. However, there are still several things that can drive it up, like transporting them across the country or using refrigerated trucks, which is still very common in pear transportation. 

In short, transporting pears has a fairly low carbon footprint. The fact that they are produced in the US, although mainly in the less-populated part of the country, helps their case. However, the use of refrigerated trucks does come at a carbon cost. 

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

The end-of-life carbon footprint of pears is moderate to high. This is mainly because of the low composting rates for organic waste. Pears also require heavy packaging with styrofoam and cardboard. Styrofoam in particular has a very low recycling rate which drives up the carbon footprint of this stage.

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

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

  • How are pears disposed of: Pears have cores that cannot be eaten. They can theoretically be recycled, but in practice, only 4% of food waste is actually composted. Furthermore, food waste is particularly harmful to the environment as it releases a greenhouse gas called methane when it is put in landfills. This means that organic waste contributes significantly to pears’ overall carbon footprint. 
  • How is the packaging of pears disposed of: The two components of pear packaging—cardboard and styrofoam—have very different waste disposal methods. Cardboard is very widely recycled, with a staggering 89% recycling rate, whereas styrofoam is incredibly difficult to recycle, with a less than 1% recycling rate

In general, pear waste—both organic and packaging—is generally not disposed of very well. With the exception of cardboard recycling, most of its waste ends up in landfills with very low recycling and composting rates. This drives up the carbon footprint of this stage. 

In short, pear waste does not need to end up in landfills, but in practice it does. Styrofoam and organic waste are the main culprits that drive up pears’ carbon footprint. 

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

Pears rank in the middle to top half of foods and fruits, in terms of carbon footprint. When kilocalories are taken into account, their lower calorie/pound ration means that their carbon footprint is significantly higher. 

Pears have a medium to high carbon footprint in relation 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 pears compare to other foods in terms of carbon footprint. 

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

Pears have a moderately high 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 pears 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 from this chart, pears rank in the top half of fruits when it comes to their carbon footprint. They have double the carbon footprint of fruits like lemons, pineapples, and strawberries, and four times the carbon footprint of clementines and watermelons. Though, they are still well below the worst offenders, having ÂĽ of the emissions of avocados and ½ the emissions of kiwis and plums. They sit between the median (0.21) and the average (0.24) emissions, which means their carbon footprint is moderate compared to other fruits. 

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

Branching outside the world of fruit, pears also have a place among food in general. In terms of their carbon footprint in relation to kilocalories, they have a moderate to high carbon footprint compared to other 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

Since pears have a similar overall carbon footprint to bananas, we can place them in a similar place on this chart. 

  • However, when kilocalories are taken into account, they start to diverge.
  • Bananas have around 400 calories per pound, whereas pears have around 260, meaning that bananas are more calorie efficient. 
  • Thus, pears would be ranked significantly higher on this chart where kilocalories are taken into account. 
  • For this reason, pears’ carbon footprint in relation to foods, in general, is fairly high. 

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

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

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

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

  1. Purchase organic pears: As we saw in the growth section, one of the biggest contributors to pears’ carbon footprint is their excessive pesticide use. Organic farms commit to using no chemicals, including pesticides. So, you will be able to greatly reduce your pear emissions by supporting these farms instead. 
  2. Purchase local pears: Although pears are mainly produced in the US, there are still a lot of regions in the country that will need them to be transported significant distances. If you live on the west coast, this will be fairly easy for you. But if you live on the east coast, it’s a good idea to try to find some local pear farms to reduce travel times. 
  3. Dispose of organic and packaging waste responsibly: Much of the waste produced by pears ends up in landfills. The good news is that you have significant control over that as the consumer. Try to compost any organic waste that you can. If your city doesn’t have a composting system, you can try creating your own! Likewise, make sure to recycle any plastic and attempt to recycle styrofoam, if possible. Taking these measures will mean that far less of your pear waste will end up in landfills and thus your emissions will be reduced. 
  4. Avoid styrofoam: One of the biggest issues with pear waste is how difficult it is to recycle styrofoam. Buying pears that are loose or in cardboard only will help reduce that harmful styrofoam waste. Often, pears from places like farmer’s markets will have less packaging. 

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

Final Thoughts

Pears are a great snack, but as we have seen, their emissions can be significant. Purchasing local, organic produce is the best way to lower your carbon emissions while still eating pears. However, waste is still a big issue, especially when it comes to their high packaging needs and styrofoam usage. So, take control of your own waste disposal methods to ensure you do not contribute more emissions to the already significant carbon footprint of pears.

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