Regardless of the season, supermarkets and weekly markets offer fresh strawberries, bananas and tomatoes all year round. How bad for the environment is eating fresh fruit and vegetables in winter? We explain where you can access with a reasonably good conscience.
The environmental and climate balance of food from the supermarket depends above all on where and how the products were grown, transported and packaged.
If you want to eat sustainably, you should also pay attention to the water footprint.
Tip: Go shopping by bike or on foot instead of driving – this saves significant amounts of CO2.
Fresh strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, apples and tomatoes? This has long been standard in the fruit and vegetable departments of supermarkets all year round – and it doesn’t stop at organic supermarkets either. But more and more consumers are asking themselves the question when they buy it: Is that also good for the environment and climate?
About the carbon footprint of fresh fruit and vegetables
One thing is clear: when tomatoes and strawberries come from Germany or Europe in winter, they have either been heated in the greenhouse, which consumes a lot of energy, or have been transported over long distances. But what about exotic fruits such as pineapples, bananas, mangoes, oranges and avocados, which always come from far away at any time of the year?
Researchers from the Heidelberg Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (Ifeu) investigated this question and came up with some surprising answers. “With food from the supermarket, the environmental and climate balance often depends less on the product and more on where and how these products were grown, transported and packaged,” says Dr. Guido Reinhardt, who led the study Ecological Footprints of Food and Dishes in Germany.
Which factors are decisive?
That means: whether a pineapple or an apple spoils or saves your own climate balance depends on several factors:
- Yield per area
- Cultivation on former natural and valuable land
- the type of packaging
- the means of transport
Means of transport plays a major role in the climate footprint
For example, a pineapple that comes to Germany by ship is 25 times better for the climate than a pineapple by plane – and still three times better than canned pineapple. Regional and seasonal apples as well as storage apples from Germany are twice as climate-friendly as apples from New Zealand. And that despite the much higher yield per area on New Zealand apple orchards.
Exotic fruit is also comparatively climate-friendly if companies do not transport it by plane. For example, regional apples and oranges have about the same carbon footprint. And shipped pineapples and bananas only release twice as much of the harmful climate gas per kilogram as regional apples in season.
Otherwise, it is also important on which areas the fruit and vegetables are grown: Were tropical rain forests cleared for cultivation or moorland converted into arable land? Such facts worsen the climate balance considerably.
You should avoid fruits from these regions
If you want to eat sustainably, you should not only look at the CO2 footprint. In addition to the greenhouse gases, other criteria also play a role. For example, water availability. Fruits from countries where water is scarce are therefore problematic. This is the case, for example, with:
- Almonds from California
- Sprouts and beans from Egypt
- Kiwis and Oranges from Israel
- Fruits and vegetables from Andalusia and Morocco
Fruits from such regions have a high water footprint. Consumers should therefore better remove them from their diet. And – for the sake of the climate and the environment – instead give preference to fruit and vegetables from the region, the season and also from organic cultivation.
It is true that organic cultivation releases more CO2 due to a lower yield per area. On the other hand, however, it contributes to good drinking water and soil quality and to the protection of bees.
Last but not least, something else is important to save your own climate balance, says Guido Reinhardt: “Shop by bike or on foot instead of driving to the farm shop or the weekly market for a kilo of apples and a cauliflower.” This would mean that consumers would easily squander the CO2 saved when shopping.
Examples of the carbon footprint of fruit and vegetables
Carbon footprint (1 kg of food produces x kg of CO2 equivalents):
- Pineapple by ship: 0.6
- Pineapple by plane: 15.1
- Regional seasonal apples: 0.3
- Regional storage apples: 0.4
- Apples from New Zealand: 0.8
- Avocado from Peru: 0.8
- Bananas: 0.6
- Regional, seasonal strawberries: 0.3
- Fresh winter strawberries: 3.4
- Oranges/Oranges: 0.3
- Seasonal tomatoes from Germany: 0.3
- Winter tomatoes from Germany: 2.9
- Canned tomato passata: 1.8