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

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

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Teresa Mersereau

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Watermelons contain over 92% water, but the other 8% is all goodness! Watermelons are a popular staple for everything from picnics to DIY punch bowls. Native to South Africa, they have spread across the world, now grown in over 96 countries. But have you ever thought about how watermelons might impact the climate? Growing practices, transport, and waste disposal can all impact the carbon emissions of watermelons. So, we had to ask: What is the carbon footprint of watermelons?

The carbon footprint of watermelons is 0.05kg (0.11 lb) of CO2e per pound of watermelon, which is very low. They are produced domestically in the US and have a minimal harvesting, processing, and packaging footprint; despite their high pesticide usage and low composting rates.

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

Here’s How We Assessed the Carbon Footprint of Watermelons

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 watermelons:

To understand the carbon footprint of watermelons, 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 Watermelons

Watermelons have a carbon footprint of 0.05kg (0.11 lb) of CO2e per pound of watermelon. This is very low compared to other fruits and therefore is very carbon-conscious. The main factors that affect their carbon footprint are high pesticide use, low composting rates, low-density agriculture, and refrigeration during transportation.

Watermelon is delicious and refreshing—especially as part of a tangy fruit salad! But there are also lots of potential carbon risks to watermelons. 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 watermelons. 

The carbon footprint of watermelons0.05kg (0.11 lb) of CO2e per pound of watermelon

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

The life-cycle stages of watermelonsEach stage’s carbon footprint
Growing of watermelonsWatermelons have a considerable growth carbon footprint. This is largely due to the fact that they are a low-density fruit that uses a lot of pesticides. 
Harvesting, processing, and packaging of watermelonsThe carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging watermelons is minimal. The main factors that contribute to their footprint are refrigeration during processing and the cardboard used in their packaging.
Transporting of watermelonsThe carbon footprint of transporting watermelons is moderate to low. Most watermelons are produced domestically in the US so the transportation distance is short. However, they require refrigeration during transit which increases the overall carbon footprint of this stage.
End-of-life of watermelonsThe carbon footprint of watermelon waste is moderate. This is because their food waste is not widely composted, resulting in methane emissions. However, their packaging is consistently recycled which lowers the potential carbon footprint at this stage.

As we can see, growth and waste disposal have the biggest effects on the carbon footprint of watermelons, while harvesting and transporting are rather minimal. These are the bigger summaries of each stage of the watermelon’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 watermelon’s production process. 

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Growing Watermelons

Watermelons have a considerable growth carbon footprint. This is largely due to the fact that they are a low-density fruit that uses a lot of pesticides. 

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 watermelon industry.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of growing watermelons?

  • How do watermelons grow: Watermelons grow on vines above ground, much like pumpkins, which are in the same family. Watermelon plants don’t have the natural carbon sequestering ability of trees. However, there are promising studies that suggest plants in the pumpkin family may be heading towards this kind of carbon sequestering, which could lower their carbon footprint. 
  • What is the growth duration of watermelons: Watermelons take up to three months to mature. This is quick compared to many other fruits such as pineapples, which take around a year to mature. A shorter growth duration means that fewer resources are needed. So, this stage has a low impact on the watermelon’s overall carbon footprint. 
  • What is the land usage of watermelons: Watermelons have an extremely low-density growth yield, only being able to grow around 2,500–3,000 plants per hectare. Compare this to the 50,000+ pineapples that are able to grow per hectare, and you can see how low watermelon density really is. Even if you take into account that a watermelon weighs almost 10 times the weight of a pineapple, that is still around half the density. So, more land is needed to allocate to each watermelon, resulting in deforestation and more resources which increases their overall carbon footprint.
  • What is the water usage of watermelons: Watermelons need around 1–2 inches of water a week, which is about 50–100 inches of water per year. Most watermelons are grown in the Southern USA, so natural water consumption will depend on the state. For example, Arizona only gets around 12 inches of rainfall per year, meaning that Arizona-grown watermelons need a lot of irrigation. Whereas, Florida gets over 53 inches of rainfall per year, so Florida-grown watermelons need less irrigation. Therefore, the water needs, and carbon footprint, will greatly depend on whether your watermelons come from the Southeast or the Southwest. 
  • What is the pesticide and fertilizer usage of watermelons: Unfortunately, pesticide usage in watermelons tends to be higher than average. Furthermore, one study found the presence of a banned pesticide on certain watermelons throughout the US. Pesticides emit carbon, so their use contributes significantly to the carbon footprint of watermelons. 

Overall, the production process of watermelons is moderately carbon-conscious. Their incredibly short growth duration, as well as their low irrigation in certain areas mean that they don’t require too many resources to produce. However, they are low density plants that use a lot of pesticides, which drives up their carbon footprint significantly.

In short, the growth stage of watermelons has a moderate carbon footprint. This is mainly due to their lower density growth and their high pesticide use, but offset by their low growth duration and low irrigation. 

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

The carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging watermelons is minimal. The main factors that contribute to their footprint are refrigeration during processing and the cardboard used in their packaging.

The next major stage in the watermelon’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 watermelons affects their carbon footprint. 

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

  • How are watermelons harvested: Watermelons are only harvested by hand, due to the incredibly fine technique of slicing the stem. Since watermelons don’t use any significant machinery when they are being harvested, this process has a minimal effect on their carbon footprint. 
  • How are watermelons processed: Watermelon processing depends on how long the watermelons are going to be stored for. For example, if they need to be stored for a long time, they need to be immediately refrigerated. However, if they are going to be sold immediately, they can be stored at room temperature. Therefore, local watermelons will have a much larger carbon footprint at this stage than foreign ones. 
  • How are watermelons packaged: Watermelons typically have no packaging at the store level. However, they are often transported in large cardboard containers. Cardboard causes carbon emissions, so this stage does contribute moderately to the overall carbon footprint of the watermelon. 

There are some significant variables when it comes to the overall carbon impact of harvesting, processing, and packaging watermelons, namely how locally they are grown and processed. But overall, especially if you are buying local watermelons, this stage doesn’t contribute significantly to their overall carbon footprint. 

In short, the carbon footprint of harvesting, processing, and packaging watermelons is fairly low. They are harvested by hand, processed minimally, and packaged with minimal cardboard.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Transporting of Watermelons

The carbon footprint of transporting watermelons is moderate to low. Most watermelons are produced domestically in the US so the transportation distance is short. However, they require refrigeration during transit which increases the overall carbon footprint of this stage.

A watermelon’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 watermelons contributes to their overall carbon footprint.

Which factors impact the carbon footprint of transporting watermelons?

With the smaller distances that most watermelons have to travel in the US offset with the use of refrigerated trucks, their transportation carbon footprint comes out at moderate to low. Those in Northern states will have a higher transportation footprint than those who live in Southern states. 

In short, the carbon footprint of watermelon transportation is fairly minimal. This is mainly due to the low transportation distances as they are often produced locally. However, the use of refrigerated trucks increases the overall carbon footprint of this stage. 

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

The carbon footprint of watermelon waste is moderate. This is because their food waste is not widely composted, resulting in methane emissions. However, their packaging is consistently recycled which lowers the potential carbon footprint at this stage.

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

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

  • How are watermelons disposed of: Watermelon has a rind, which is generally not edible so it is often thrown out. Theoretically, all of this waste can be composted, but unfortunately, only 4% of food waste is actually composted. Furthermore, throwing food waste in landfills generates methane, which is a very harmful greenhouse gas. This means that the food waste stage of watermelons does contribute significantly to its overall carbon footprint. 
  • How is the packaging of watermelons disposed of: Watermelons are generally packaged in cardboard for transit. Luckily, this material has an exceptionally high recycling rate at 89%. So, the packaging stage does not contribute significantly to the watermelon’s overall carbon footprint.

The carbon footprint of this stage of the watermelon’s life cycle is entirely dependent on the typical waste management rates of the materials at hand. Cardboard is recycled at a high consistency, but food waste isn’t widely composted. Therefore, the carbon footprint of this stage is moderate. 

In short, the contrasting waste disposal of food waste and cardboard waste work together to create the moderate carbon footprint of watermelon waste. 

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

Fruit-wise, watermelons rank incredibly low. They are by far some of the most carbon-conscious foods you can eat. When you consider the calorie-per-pound factor, though, then watermelons are slightly less efficient than some other fruits. However, they are still very low in carbon emissions in general. 

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 watermelons compare to other foods in terms of carbon footprint.

How Does the Carbon Footprint of Watermelons 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 watermelons 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, watermelons have by far the lowest carbon footprint of these popular fruits. This means that if you are choosing a watermelon over avocados, kiwis, and plums, then you have a carbon footprint that is on average ten times smaller. This is great news for watermelon fans, since it fares so well against other fruits. 

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

Branching outside the world of fruit, watermelons 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 watermelons 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

When kilocalories are taken into account, watermelons do not fare as well. Remember when we said they were 92% water? Well, this means that they generally don’t have too many calories per pound. In fact, compared to bananas, which have around 400 calories per pound, watermelons come up very short at 130 calories per pound. So, compared to the larger range of foods, and considering kilocalories, watermelons have a higher carbon footprint. 

How Can You Reduce and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

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

If you are worried about how your consumption of watermelons is impacting the planet, then there are a number of things you can do to lower your overall carbon footprint while still enjoying this popular fruit. Purchasing organic or locally grown watermelons 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 Watermelons

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

  1. Buy local watermelon: Even though most watermelons are domestic, the US is a big country. So, buying California watermelons when you live in New York will still accrue a large carbon footprint. Try to make sure that you are not just buying domestic watermelons, but also watermelons grown as close to your state as possible. 
  2. Compost, compost, compost: For the waste-conscious watermelon eaters, one of the best things you can do is make sure that no part of the watermelon ends up in landfills. You can do this through a local government composting program or, if you don’t have access to that, through DIY composting. It’s super easy, great for the environment, and is the best source of fertilizer for your garden!
  3. Buy organic watermelons: High pesticide use is a huge issue for the carbon footprint of watermelons. However, organic watermelons don’t use pesticides. So, you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint when buying organic produce. Plus, it can be beneficial for your health to skip out on some of these harmful chemicals. 

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

Final Thoughts

Overall, watermelons have a very low carbon footprint; the lowest amongst fruits in general. The main things that drive up their carbon footprint are low density agriculture, pesticide use, the refrigeration involved in transportation, and low composting rates of their food waste. However, the fact that they have incredibly quick maturation times, are produced mostly domestically, and are harvested mostly by hand, balances out some of these emissions. Therefore, the next time you are enjoying some juicy watermelons, you can rest assured that you are enjoying one of the most carbon-conscious fruits out there.

Stay impactful,

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