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

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

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Teresa Mersereau

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Pomegranates are a booming global business, evaluated at around $24 billion in annual sales. Originating in the Middle East and featuring prominently in Greek myth, pomegranates also have a long culinary and symbolic history. But pomegranates can have a significant impact on the planet. Growing, transporting, and disposing of pomegranates can rack up significant carbon emissions. So we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of pomegranates?

Pomegranates have a moderately high carbon footprint of 0.39kg (0.87lb) of CO2e per pound of pomegranates. This is mainly because of their high need for growth resources, pesticide use, refrigerated transportation, and low composting rates. 

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Pomegranates

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 pomegranates:

To understand the carbon footprint of pomegranates, 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 Pomegranates

The overall carbon footprint of pomegranates is 0.39kg (0.87lb) of CO2e per pound of pomegranates. The main factors that contribute to this are land use, irrigation, pesticides, refrigeration, and waste disposal. Their carbon footprint is fairly high compared to other fruits. 

Pomegranates have a fairly high carbon footprint compared to other fruits. The main positives are manual harvesting, domestic production, and minimal packaging. However, aspects of the transportation process, as well as waste disposal, contribute significantly to their overall carbon footprint.

The carbon footprint of pomegranates0.39kg (0.87lb) of CO2e per pound of pomegranates

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

The life-cycle stages of pomegranatesEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of pomegranatesThe carbon footprint of growing pomegranates is very high. This is mainly because of their long growth frames, high land and irrigation requirements, and significant use of pesticides. 
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of pomegranatesThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging pomegranates is low. They use wax and refrigeration in their processing. But, they are manually harvested and contain very little packaging, which keeps their footprint low. 
Transporting of pomegranatesThe carbon footprint of transporting pomegranates is fairly low. This is mainly because, despite their need for refrigerated transportation, most pomegranates are grown domestically. 
End-of-life of pomegranatesThe carbon footprint of the end-of-life of pomegranates is moderate. This is due to the low composting rates of their food waste. 

The stages that contribute the most to pomegranates’ carbon footprint are the growing stage and end-of-life practices. These are significant because of pomegranates’ high need for growth resources and their low composting rates. However, manual harvesting processes and domestic production help them to keep their carbon footprint down overall.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Pomegranates

The carbon footprint of growing pomegranates is very high. This is mainly because of their long growth frames, high land and irrigation requirements, and significant use of pesticides. 

The process of growing pomegranates has a very 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.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing pomegranates?

  • How do pomegranates grow: Pomegranates grow on trees in orchards. Thanks to the natural carbon sequestering properties of trees, this stage has a very low carbon footprint. 
  • What is the growth duration of pomegranates: The longer the growth frame, the higher the carbon footprint because more resources are required to sustain the plants. It takes about 5–6 years for pomegranate trees to start producing fruit at peak capacity. Then, each individual pomegranate takes around 5–7 months to go from flower to fruit. This is a fairly long time frame, so this stage has a substantial carbon footprint. 
  • What is the land usage of pomegranates: When fruits use less land, they require less deforestation and resources to sustain them. Pomegranates yield around 8 tons per hectare. This is very low in the range of fruits. For example, pears can yield 40-50 tons per hectare. Thus, this stage contributes significantly to their overall carbon footprint. 
  • What is the water usage of pomegranates: Pomegranate trees need around an inch of water per week. The vast majority of US pomegranates come from California. However, California only gets a meager 22 inches of rain per year. This means that pomegranates need a significant amount of irrigation. Since irrigation has a carbon footprint, this stage contributes greatly to pomegranates’ carbon footprint. 
  • What is the pesticide and fertilizer usage of pomegranates: Pesticide use amongst pomegranate farms has been found to be fairly high. Pesticides have quite a high carbon footprint and so this stage does contribute significantly to pomegranates’ overall carbon footprint. 

Pomegranates have quite a few strikes against them when it comes to their growth carbon footprint. Buying organic pomegranates can help you to lower your carbon footprint when eating pomegranates because organically grown farms do not use pesticides. However, land use and irrigation needs may be more out of your control.

In short, growing pomegranates has a high carbon cost. The main factors that contribute to this sizable carbon footprint are land usage, growth duration, irrigation requirements, and high rates of pesticide use. 

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

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging pomegranates is low. They use wax and refrigeration in their processing. But, they are manually harvested and contain very little packaging, which keeps their footprint low. 

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

  • How are pomegranates harvested: Pomegranates are harvested manually, usually by cutting the stem to avoid damaging the fruit. This manual process doesn’t require energy like machine harvesting. So, this stage contributes minimally to pomegranates’ overall carbon footprint. 
  • How are pomegranates processed: Pomegranates are typically waxed after they are harvested to enhance appearances. Wax has a carbon footprint, so this contributes to pomegranates’ carbon footprint. Furthermore, pomegranates are typically refrigerated after harvesting to elongate shelf life. Since this requires energy, the processing stage of pomegranate growth has a high carbon footprint. 
  • How are pomegranates packaged: Packaging depends on whether you are purchasing whole pomegranates or pomegranate seeds. Whole pomegranates typically have no packaging, whereas pomegranate seeds usually come in plastic containers. Thus, the footprint of this stage will depend on the method of consumption.

In general, the harvesting, processing, and packaging stage is fairly small for pomegranates, considering their manual harvesting and minimal packaging.

In short, harvesting, processing, and packaging pomegranates is fairly carbon-conscious. Barring the wax and refrigeration in their processing, manual harvesting and minimal packaging keep them low on the carbon scale. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting Pomegranates

The carbon footprint of transporting pomegranates is fairly low. This is mainly because, despite their need for refrigerated transportation, most pomegranates are grown domestically. 

Pomegranates’ 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 pomegranates?

Most pomegranates consumed in the US are grown domestically. This means that their carbon footprint remains fairly low, even though they are transported in refrigerated trucks. 

In short, transportation does not contribute too significantly to pomegranates’ carbon footprint. Refrigerated trucking is high in carbon, but the fact that the trucks don’t have to travel too far means their footprint is still low. 

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

The carbon footprint of the end-of-life of pomegranates is moderate. This is due to the low composting rates of their food waste. 

Pomegranates’ 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 pomegranates is how pomegranates’ carbon footprint. 

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

  • How are pomegranates disposed of: Pomegranates have peels that are generally not consumed. These peels can theoretically be composted, but unfortunately, only 4% of food waste is actually composted. This means that the vast majority of pomegranate waste is ending up in landfills. Furthermore, food waste is particularly harmful to the environment as it releases a greenhouse gas called methane when it is put in landfills. Thus, this stage contributes fairly significantly to pomegranates’ carbon footprint.
  • How is the packaging of pomegranates disposed of: Pomegranates typically have no packaging and so there is no significant footprint to this stage. If you are consuming pomegranate seeds in plastic packaging, which has a significant carbon footprint, then this will be higher in waste. 

The general waste of pomegranates tends to be fairly low. Despite the food waste that tends to end up in landfills, their lack of packaging helps to keep their waste footprint moderate. By disposing of food waste properly, you can lower the footprint of this stage even further. 

In short, the fact that pomegranates have no significant packaging means that their waste footprint is fairly low. Although, their organic waste has a low composting rate. 

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

Pomegranates rank moderately to high when it comes to carbon footprint. However, when you take kilocalories into account, they have a much lower carbon footprint because they are more calorie-dense than other fruits. 

Pomegranates have a moderate carbon footprint in relation to other foods, but less so when kilocalories are taken into account. 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 pomegranates compare to other foods in terms of carbon footprint.

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

Compared to other fruits, pomegranates have a fairly high carbon footprint. 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 pomegranates 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

From this chart, we can see that pomegranates have a moderately high carbon footprint compared to the other fruits. They have less than half the emissions of avocados. But, compared to the lowest carbon emitters, such as clementines and watermelons, they have almost ten times the emissions.

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

Compared to foods in general, especially when calories taken into account, pomegranates actually have a lower carbon footprint. Their more calorie-dense structure means that they are going to be able to pack in more calories per portion. Thus, their carbon footprint goes further than it would if they had a lower calorie density. In terms of foods in general, they are in the middle of the road. 

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

While pomegranates have around the same emissions as strawberries, they would be placed quite differently on this chart:

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

There are many things you can do to cut down on how your pomegranate consumption impacts the planet. For pomegranates in particular, buying organic or seasonal pomegranates as well as making efforts to compost are key. By carefully considering your consumption habits to reduce carbon emissions and offsetting your carbon through carbon-extraction schemes, you can consume pomegranates without having a large negative impact on the earth. 

Some of the carbon risks of pomegranates 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 pomegranates. Purchasing organic or locally grown pomegranates 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 Pomegranates

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

  1. Buy organic pomegranates: Pesticides are some of the biggest contributors to pomegranates’ carbon footprint. Organic farms make the commitment to avoid using chemicals, including pesticides. Thus, making the effort to buy organic pomegranates will help you to reduce the pesticide component of your carbon footprint. 
  2. Buy pomegranates only in the summer: Although most pomegranates come from California, this is only the case in the summer. In the winter, they are imported from Mexico, and even eastern Mediterranean countries like Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon. Thus, your carbon footprint will be significantly higher if you are eating pomegranates in the winter. To keep your footprint down, ensure your pomegranates are locally produced and try to consume them during the summer as much as possible. 
  3. Compost your pomegranate waste: Pomegranate peels ending up in landfills can have a high carbon price. If you make the effort to compost your pomegranate peels then you will be greatly reducing the methane emitted from them. If you can’t compost through your city’s waste management system, then you can consider creating your own compost!

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

Final Thoughts

Pomegranates may be a unique and delicious fruit, but they can come at a significant carbon cost. Fortunately, there are many things that you can do to reduce this footprint. Their land use, pesticide rates, refrigeration in transportation, and low composting rates can have a significant impact on the planet. However, making the effort to buy organic and seasonal pomegranates, as well as ensuring that you compost your pomegranate waste can help you consume pomegranates much more responsibly!

Stay impactful,

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