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

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

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Teresa Mersereau

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With over 30 million tons of pineapples produced per year on the global market, they are an incredibly popular fruit. They’re nutritious too, as a cancer-fighting fruit loaded with antioxidants and Vitamin C. Moreover, they have historically been a symbol of hospitality and welcome, especially in the Southern US. It’s no wonder then, that many people have a fondness for the fruit. But have you ever thought about the potential climate impact it might have? There are lots of potential ways in which pineapples might have an effect on the planet’s carbon crisis. So, we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of pineapples?

Pineapples have a carbon footprint of 0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapple. This is largely due to their high pesticide use, their transportation emissions (e.g., to get them from Costa Rica to the US), and their low composting rates.

In this article, we will look at the full life-cycle of the pineapple, investigating how each stage contributes to its carbon footprint. We will go through each of the main stages of the pineapple’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 pineapple’s carbon footprint to determine the overall impact of the pineapple. So, let’s get into the carbon footprint of the pineapple!

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Pineapples

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 pineapples:

To understand the carbon footprint of pineapples, 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 Pineapples

The overall carbon footprint of pineapples is 0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapple. There are many factors that contribute to this relatively small carbon footprint, including lower-density agricultural practices, high pesticide use, considerable transportation time, refrigeration during shipping, and lack of consistent composting efforts by the average consumer. However, despite these things, the carbon footprint of pineapples is still very low compared to most other fruits. 

Pineapples are a classic summer treat—and a popular ingredient on everything from salads to pizza! But there are also lots of potential carbon risks to pineapples. These can be as big as the method of transportation to as small as the type of pesticide used—all of them are factors that can balloon into a big carbon footprint. So, let’s examine how all these factors combine to form the overall carbon footprint of the pineapple. 

The carbon footprint of pineapples0.09 kg (0.20 lb) of CO2e per pound of pineapple

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

The life-cycle stages of pineapplesEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of pineapplesThe growth stage of the pineapple is moderate on the carbon footprint scale. The main contributing factors are the low-density requirements in terms of land use and the high pesticide use. 
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of pineapplesThe harvesting, processing, and packaging stage of the pineapple’s carbon footprint is fairly low. The only major contributor to their footprint at this stage is the use of cardboard and sometimes plastic packaging. 
Transporting of pineapplesThe carbon footprint of pineapple transport is significant. This is because they have to travel from outside the US and be transported in refrigerated containers. 
End-of-life of pineapplesThe waste carbon footprint of pineapples is moderate. This is mainly to do with a lack of composting efforts and opportunities for consumers. 

As we can see, transportation is the most significant contributor to the pineapple’s carbon footprint, followed closely by waste management, and pesticide use. These are the bigger summaries of each stage of the pineapple’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 pineapple’s production process. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Pineapples

The growth stage of the pineapple is moderate on the carbon footprint scale. The main contributing factors are the low-density requirements in terms of land use and the high pesticide use. 

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 pineapple industry.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing pineapples?

  • How do pineapples grow: Pineapples grow as individual plants. These require fewer resources than trees. Pineapple plants are also able to sequester carbon from the atmosphere which lowers their carbon footprint at this stage. However, because pineapple plants can only grow one pineapple at a time, they are less efficient than trees.
  • What is the growth duration of pineapples: Pineapples will bear fruit after roughly 12 months of growth, depending on the season in which they are planted. This is fairly long for a fruit, especially since many other fruits take around 3–5 months to mature. Saying that, fruit trees may take years before they start bearing fruit. Thus, this stage of the process contributes a small amount to the overall carbon footprint. 
  • What is the land usage of pineapples: Pineapples are dense, packing in a whopping 53,000–63,000 plants per hectare. For comparison, a mango tree, which is one of the lowest-density fruit trees, can only fit 250 trees per hectare. But, given that each mango tree can produce 200–300 mangoes a year, they work out to be about the same density, putting pineapples on the lower end of fruit density. Thus, their land usage does contribute moderately to their carbon footprint. 
  • What is the water usage of pineapples: Pineapples are actually a relatively dry fruit, only needing about 20 inches of water per year, which is less than half an inch a week. Pineapples in the US are primarily grown in Costa Rica, which gets over 100 inches a year, so pineapples need virtually zero irrigation. This means that their water carbon footprint is nonexistent. 
  • What is the pesticide and fertilizer usage of pineapples: Unfortunately, pineapples require a very high amount of pesticides in their production process. Pesticides emit a lot of carbon, and so this stage contributes highly to the pineapple’s carbon footprint. 

The growth stage of pineapples has its ups and downs when it comes to carbon footprint. On some accounts, it does very well, such as zero irrigation and carbon sequestering, but land usage and pesticides contribute to the overall carbon footprint of pineapples. 

In short, the use of exorbitant pesticides, lower density, and longer fruit maturation means that the growth stage of the pineapple does contribute somewhat to their overall carbon footprint. 

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

The harvesting, processing, and packaging stage of the pineapple’s carbon footprint is fairly low. The only major contributor to their footprint at this stage is the use of cardboard and sometimes plastic packaging. 

The next major stage in the pineapple’s growth process is harvesting, processing, and packaging, which involves 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 pineapples affects their carbon footprint. 

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

  • How are pineapples harvested: Pineapples are usually harvested by hand using a long knife called a parang. Harvesting by hand means that this stage of the process has an exceptionally low carbon footprint, since there are no machine emissions to account for. 
  • How are pineapples processed: Pineapples are usually graded manually. There may be some machinery involved at this stage, but because of the subjective nature of their criteria, they are most likely done by hand. This means that there is a relatively small carbon footprint for processing. 
  • How are pineapples packaged: Pineapples are usually packaged using cardboard and sometimes plastic for the transportation process. However, once they are in the store, whole pineapples usually have minimal to no consumer packaging. Both cardboard and plastic create carbon emissions when they are produced. So, this component does contribute significantly to the pineapple’s overall carbon footprint. 

When considering the relatively manual process of harvesting and processing, as well as the comparatively minimal packaging, especially at the selling stage, pineapples come out very well when it comes to their processing carbon footprint. 

In short, the emissions caused in the creation of pineapple packaging is the biggest contributor to its carbon footprint at this stage, but is still relatively small. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Pineapples

The carbon footprint of pineapple transport is significant. This is because they have to travel from outside the US and be transported in refrigerated containers. 

A pineapple’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 pineapples contributes to their overall carbon footprint.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting pineapples?

  • Where are pineapples grown: Pineapples are primarily grown in Costa Rica and shipped to the US. Though this is a significant distance, it is still relatively short compared to fruits from Europe, or even Asia, and therefore has a moderate carbon footprint. 
  • How are pineapples transported: Pineapples are commonly shipped in refrigerated containers, which consume much more carbon than unrefrigerated containers. Thus the method of transportation does contribute significantly to the carbon footprint of the pineapple. 

The distance the pineapple has to travel is moderate compared to other fruits, but it is still significant. This, paired with the refrigerated containers, means that their transportation carbon costs are significant. 

In short, the use of refrigerated shipping containers and international transport raise the carbon footprint of the pineapple, though it is smaller than fruits coming from other continents. 

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

The waste carbon footprint of pineapples is moderate. This is mainly to do with a lack of composting efforts and opportunities for consumers. 

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

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

  • How are pineapples disposed of: All of the pineapple’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. Therefore, the organic waste of pineapples contributes significantly to its carbon footprint. 
  • How is the packaging of pineapples disposed of: Pineapples often have zero packaging on the consumer’s part and so this isn’t a significant factor. However, the packaging on the store’s end, consisting mainly of cardboard, should be recycled. Luckily, cardboard packaging has the highest rate of recycling, at 89%, meaning that this factor contributes very minimally to the overall carbon footprint of pineapples. 

The waste that comes from a pineapple should be carbon neutral, as it is both recyclable and compostable. However, consumer habits, especially with composting, mean that the waste is generally not disposed of properly, which can lead to an inflated carbon footprint. 

In short, if everyone composted pineapples, they would have a virtually nonexistent end-of-life carbon footprint. However, in practice, this stage has a moderate to high carbon footprint.

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

When it comes to fruits, pineapples are some of the most carbon-conscious you can eat. However, when you take kilocalories into account and compare pineapples with a wider range of foods, they come out more moderate. 

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 pineapples compare to other foods in terms of carbon footprint. 

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Pineapples 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 pineapples 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 you can see, pineapples fall very low on the overall carbon footprint ranking, tying with lemons as the lowest. They are almost 1/10th the carbon footprint of an avocado, making them a far more sustainable choice. Generally, fruits that fall in the bottom half are going to be some of the best choices to make and pineapples rank very strongly against all of them. 

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

Branching outside the world of fruit, pineapples 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 pineapples 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

As we can see, most fruits rank around the middle of the scale when it comes to overall foods. Pineapples rank alongside bananas. They have a lower overall carbon footprint but also a lower calorie-per-pound ratio (bananas having roughly 400 calories per pound and pineapples around 230). This means that their carbon footprint will automatically be higher per kilocalorie. Therefore, when kilocalories are taken into account, pineapples have a slightly higher carbon footprint, and rank around in the middle compared to a wider range of foods. 

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

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

Some of the carbon risks of pineapple 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 pineapples. Purchasing organic or locally grown pineapples 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 Pineapples

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

  1. Buy organic pineapples: Pineapples have a relatively high pesticide rate but organic pineapples don’t use pesticides. So, they have a much lower carbon footprint. Unfortunately, pineapples can’t grow in the US, due to the tropical environment needed, so you won’t be able to purchase local pineapples. But reducing the impact from the pesticides used in the pineapple production process can make a big impact. 
  2. Compost: Another major contributor to the pineapple’s carbon footprint is improper waste disposal. Make sure that you compost all organic waste to prevent it from ending up in landfills. If you don’t have a government-run composting program in your area, consider making your own compost in your backyard. It’s really easy and benefits your garden a lot! 

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

Final Thoughts

Although there are a lot of stages of the pineapple production process that do produce a significant amount of carbon emissions, their contribution pales in comparison to many other fruits. There are many things that the pineapple does right. It has an incredibly low-carbon growing process with its manual harvesting, it has a relatively short distance to travel compared to fruits that come from Asia or Europe, and most of its packaging is consistently recycled. Plus, it ranks among the lowest out of the most popular fruits. So the next time you get a hankering for pineapple, know that you’re choosing one of the most carbon-conscious fruits out there.

Stay impactful,

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