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

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

By
Grace Howarth

Read Time:14 Minutes

CLICK TO
SUBSCRIBE

follow follow

Impactful Ninja is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more Learn more .

Affiliate Disclosure

Hey fellow impactful ninja ?

You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.

  • Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.

  • But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.

Why do we add these product links?

First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.

And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

What do these affiliate links mean for you?
  1. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.

  3. And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.

What do these affiliate links mean for us?
  1. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).

  3. And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.

What does this mean for me personally?

You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.

Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.

Stay impactful,

There are hundreds of varieties of salad greens; from spinach, arugula, and kale, to lettuce and cress. They are high in nutrition, but low in calories. They are also rich in vitamins A, C, K, B, and potassium, making them a very healthy choice. Over 40% of consumers report having purchased a salad mix over the last twelve months. Yet, much less is shared about the environmental impact, and especially the carbon emissions of salad mix. So we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of salad mix?

Salad mix has a carbon footprint of 0.41 kg (0.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which is about average for vegetables. Over 70% of the carbon footprint is due to the harvesting, processing, and packaging required to produce salad mix. It has a higher carbon footprint than lettuce sold whole.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the overall carbon emissions of the life-cycle of salad mix. From growing and packaging, to transportation and end-of-life practices, you will learn how this vegetable affects the planet and discover some ways to reduce and offset the footprint. 

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Salad Mix

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 salad mix:

To understand the carbon footprint of salad mix, 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 Salad Mix

The overall carbon footprint of salad mix is 0.41 kg (0.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which is relatively high for crops. However, salad mix has a lower carbon footprint than other salad vegetables such as tomato, cucumber, and bell pepper

American consumers purchase prepackaged salad mix twice as often as they buy heads of lettuce. So it is important to know the carbon footprint associated with this option. Then, you can make sustainable choices when it comes to your food.

The carbon footprint of salad mix0.41 kg (0.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of salad mix

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

The life-cycle stages of salad mixEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of salad mixThe carbon footprint of growing salad mix is 0.09 kg (0.2 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 17.27% of the overall carbon footprint. This is largely because of the land, water, and pesticide use in the agricultural stage of growing salad mix. 
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of salad mixThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging salad mix is 0.32 kg (0.7 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 70.73% of the overall carbon footprint. This large percentage is due to the use of plastic packaging, and the extensive processing and harvesting stages. 
Transporting of salad mixThe carbon footprint of transporting salad mix is 0.05 kg (0.1 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 12% of the overall carbon footprint of salad mix. Salad leaves are grown in the US, mainly in California and Arizona. The carbon footprint is impacted by transport methods, and food miles, so buying locally reduces the carbon footprint of this stage.
End-of-life of salad mixThe carbon footprint of the end-of-life of processing salad mix is largely impacted by the amount of food wasted. Salad is one of the most wasted foods, with around 40% of salad mix bags being thrown away. Salad mix makes up 12.6% of all wasted salad, with 37,400 tons being wasted a year. Plastic packaging is bad for the environment, but lengthens the shelf-life, leading to less food waste.

These four stages can be broken down in more detail to understand why the carbon footprint of salad mix is relatively high in comparison to other vegetables.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Salad Mix

The carbon footprint of growing salad mix is 0.09 kg (0.2 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 17.27% of the overall carbon footprint. This is largely because of the land, water, and pesticide use in the agricultural stage of growing salad mix.

Since there are so many varieties of leafy greens that can be included in salad mixes, the overall carbon footprint can be difficult to quantify. However, by looking at an overall mix of leaves such as lettuce, spinach, and kale, we can explore what the carbon footprint of salad mix is. 

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing salad mix?

In short, salad mix is more water and land efficient if grown vertically. Since it is a fast-growing crop, it is less labor-intensive, but the use of pesticides increases the carbon footprint of salad mix. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Harvesting, Processing, and Packaging Salad Mix

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging salad mix is 0.32 kg (0.7 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 70.73% of the overall carbon footprint. This large percentage is due to the use of plastic packaging, and the extensive processing and harvesting stages.

Most salad leaves are harvested, processed, and packaged by machine. This increases the carbon footprint, making the carbon footprint higher than buying whole heads of lettuce. 

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

In short, there is a reliance on machine harvesting and processing, as well as extensive plastic packaging used for shipping salad mixes. This contributes the vast majority of carbon emissions towards the overall carbon footprint of salad mix. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Salad Mix

The carbon footprint of transporting salad mix is 0.05 kg (0.1 lbs) of CO2e per pound of produce, which makes up 12% of the overall carbon footprint of salad mix. Salad leaves are grown in the US, mainly in California and Arizona. The carbon footprint is impacted by transport methods, and food miles, so buying locally reduces the carbon footprint of this stage.

Salad mixes are generally grown in California, and shipped in refrigerated trucks across the country. This creates carbon emissions, but this can be reduced through more regional methods of growing, such as vertical farming

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting salad mix?

In short, salad mixes are relatively easy to grow locally, decreasing food miles and carbon emissions. In summer months, buying salad mix seasonally from local farms will create the smallest carbon footprint. With the advancements of vertical farming, salad mixes could be grown even more locally, reducing the carbon footprint even further.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of the End-of-Life of Salad Mix

The carbon footprint of the end-of-life of processing salad mix is largely impacted by the amount of food wasted. Salad is one of the most wasted foods, with around 40% of salad mix bags being thrown away. Salad mix makes up 12.6% of all wasted salad, with 37,400 tons being wasted a year. The plastic packaging is bad for the environment, but lengthens the shelf-life, leading to less food waste.

Salad mix degrades very quickly, not usually lasting more than 7-10 days. Because of this, it is one of the most wasted foods. Salad mix is compostable, but often ends up in landfill. The packaging is often recyclable, but can also end up in landfill if not disposed of properly.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of the end-of-life of salad mix?

In short, salad mix is often wasted due to a short shelf-life, and is almost always packaged in plastic. To reduce waste, be conscious of using the entire bag of salad mix, and recycling any plastic waste. 

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Salad Mix Compare to Other Types of Food

Salad mix has a relatively high carbon footprint compared to other vegetables. However, vegetables tend to produce far fewer carbon emissions than other types of food. 

Let’s see how mixed salad compares with other vegetables.

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Salad Mix Compare to Other Types of Vegetables

In comparison to other vegetables, the carbon footprint of salad mix is quite average. For example, it produces less than half of the carbon emissions that cucumber produces. However, salad vegetables need more resources to grow, making their carbon footprint higher than root vegetables.

VegetablesCarbon Footprint
Cucumbers1.00 kg (2.2 lbs) of CO2e per pound of cucumbers
Tomatoes0.82 kg (1.8 lbs) CO2e per pound of tomatoes
Bell Peppers0.73 kg (1.6 lbs) of CO2e per pound of bell peppers
Salad Mix0.41 kg (0.9 lbs) of CO2e per pound of salad mix
Broccoli0.27 kg (0.6 lb) CO2e per pound of broccoli
Celery0.27 kg (0.60 lb) of CO2e per pound of celery
Lettuce 0.26 kg (0.57 lb) of CO2e per pound of lettuce
Carrots0.18 kg (0.4 lb) of CO2e per pound of carrots
Potatoes0.12 kg (0.26 lb) of CO2e per pound of potatoes
Onions 0.11 kg (0.25 lb) of CO2e per pound of onions

So, salad mixes are one of the more sustainable salad vegetables, but how do they compare to other types of food?

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

Like brassicas, mixed salad is one of the more sustainable options in comparison to other types of food. It produces around twelve times less greenhouse gas emissions than beef. 

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

However, since mixed salad is extremely low in calories, a far greater amount of produce is needed to equal 1,000 kilocalories.

Even though the carbon emissions for salad mix are low in comparison to other types of food, try to be mindful of the ways you can lessen your environmental impact when you purchase it.

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

All of the food you eat will have some form of carbon footprint, even when you buy foods with relatively average CO2e, such as salad mix. However, there are ways to offset and reduce your personal carbon footprint. 

There are a few easy techniques to buy more eco-friendly mixed salad, and you can also find ways to offset the carbon footprint after your purchase. 

How Can You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Shopping for Salad Mix

When shopping for mixed salad, consider these ways to lessen your impact on the environment. 

  1. Shop locally and seasonally: Salad mix is in season from April to October. Buying from local farms reduces the carbon emissions produced and makes it a much more sustainable choice.
  2. Choose organic: Organic salad mix produces a much lower carbon footprint than non-organic vegetables, due to the lack of pesticide production, distribution, and the overall higher health of soil for crops, insects, and animals.
  3. Avoid waste: Salad mix often ends up going bad in the refrigerator. Avoid this by storing your salad correctly, and consuming it quickly. Salad leaves that are looking a bit wilted can sometimes be revived after a soak in iced water.

Taking these actions are a great way to lessen your own carbon footprint, but there are also ways to offset the impact of consuming mixed salad as well.

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 salad mix. 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 salad mix – 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 salad mix, 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 salad mix.

Final Thoughts

Salad mix has a relatively low carbon footprint in comparison to other food, but an average carbon footprint when compared with other vegetables. Try to reduce your carbon footprint by eating organic, reducing food waste, and purchasing local, seasonal produce. As vertical farming becomes a more viable source for the production of salad mix, the growing process will have a lower carbon footprint, and be more localized. When you do enjoy salad mix, think about whether you can offset the carbon emissions created, to make this healthy snack a more sustainable option!

Stay impactful,

Illustration of a signature for Grace Howarth

Sources

Photo of author
Did you like this article?

Get the 5-minute newsletter that makes reading impactful news enjoyable—packed with actionable insights to make a positive impact in your daily life.

Three Related Posts

One Unrelated Post