The environmental impact of food: fruit juice

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Global consumption of orange juice exceeded 1.5 million metric tonnes from October 2019 to September 2020, and it was a relatively slow year compared to the previous decade, when over 2 million metric tonnes were drunk. . Sadly, gobbling up that amount of juice, regardless of the flavor, has repercussions. For starters, The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, the two worst plastic polluters in the world, own the major juice brands in the United States: Tropicana, Minute Maid, Simply Orange and V8. And problematic parent companies are just a scratch on the surface of the juice’s carbon footprint.

To understand the total environmental impact of the juice, we must consider the resources necessary for the cultivation of the product, the food waste associated with the extraction of the juice, the materials used to condition it and the energy required to ship and store it. store.

Learn more about the impact of the fruit juice industry and whether it’s worth the sweetness of pre-pressed liquefied foods.

Calculation of the carbon footprint of fruit juices

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Orange juice, which accounts for 90% of the US citrus juice market, has a carbon footprint of around 200 grams per glass. A 2009 collaboration between PepsiCo and Columbia University’s Earth Institute to determine Tropicana’s carbon footprint found that a half-gallon was 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide, about the same amount as one 5 mile car ride. This calculation allowed Tropicana to become the first consumer brand in North America to receive the Carbon Trust certification.

Tropicana’s home state of Florida, which has the world’s second-largest citrus industry, produces 547 million gallons of unconcentrated orange juice and about 537 gallons of frozen concentrated orange juice per year. The cultivation process alone accounts for 60% of the carbon footprint of orange juice. Using nitrogen fertilizers and water – the average tree requiring about 30 gallons per day – makes up the bulk of this part.

In the 2019 book “Climate-Smart Food”, author Dave Reay said that climate change will likely increase the risk of pests and diseases and create more drought and heat problems for fruit crops, which will likely result in even more water, fertilizer, and the use of pesticides.

Apples – although they require more water than citrus fruits, with a single tree requiring 50 gallons in hot weather – are said to have a lower climate impact than apricots, peaches, grapes, oranges, bananas, pineapple, kiwi and pears.

Transport and distribution

Of course, the carbon footprint of the juice varies depending on where the fruit is grown. Crops in drier climates require more water, farms further away result in higher transport emissions, etc. According to Tropicana’s press release on the 2009 Carbon Trust certification, transportation and distribution accounted for 22% of the carbon footprint of its orange juice (the full study has not been made public).

Despite the official Florida tourism bureau claim that 90% of American orange juice is made from oranges from Florida, the country largely sources from Brazil. The South American country is the world’s largest producer of oranges, supplying more than half of all bottled orange juice.

Besides the fruit it imports for pressing domestically, the United States also largely sources its orange juice concentrate from Mexico and Costa Rica, and its pineapple juice concentrate from Thailand. , the Philippines, Costa Rica and Indonesia. While unconcentrated juice has long been considered a healthier drink than concentrated juice, the latter weighs less (and therefore generates fewer emissions) because excess water is removed.

Packaging

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Fruit juices are usually presented in bottles and jugs made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET plastic No. 1) or in plastic-coated paper cartons. While # 1 plastics are widely accepted by curbside recycling services, these plastic-paper hybrid cartons often used for long-life products are only recycled through special programs. According to Tropicana, packaging accounted for 15% of the beverage’s carbon footprint, and consumer use and disposal accounted for an additional 15%.

Recently, the packaging company Tetra Pak has become a perhaps more responsible manufacturer of beverage cartons. However, Tetra Pak containers are notoriously difficult to recycle because so few facilities process them. The good news is that Tetra Pak has partnered with other carton makers to form a Carton Council, which aims to improve access to carton recycling across the United States. % to 18%.

Food waste

We must not forget the food waste generated by the pulp and discarded peels. With more than half of the raw materials used to make orange juice becoming a by-product, the global orange juice industry alone produces up to 20 million tonnes of solid and liquid waste per year. When food waste ends up in landfills, it decomposes and produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas said to be over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide. Citrus fruits generate the most waste due to their copious peel and pulp.

How to become a greener juice drinker

Just because bottled juice has a carbon footprint similar to driving a fossil fuel car doesn’t mean you have to forgo the beloved drink altogether. There are many ways to be a better juice drinker.

  • Look for juice from concentrate, which weighs less and generates less transport emissions. Concentrated juices get a bad rap because they can contain added sugars and chemical preservatives, but you can certainly find varieties that don’t.
  • Buy glass containers instead of plastic. Glass can be recycled over and over again without losing its integrity while plastic is usually only sub-cycled. Tetra Paks are also a good option, but make sure you have access to recycling boxes beforehand.
  • Consider replacing orange juice with apple juice, as producing oranges has a higher carbon footprint than producing apples and also creates more waste.
  • Buy locally made juices to reduce emissions from shipping.
  • Whenever you can, make your own juice from local, organic produce.
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