BananaS mean LoW CarboN FootprinT

Worried about consuming bananas from overseas? Do you believe they have a high carbon footprint?

We know that it seems more eco-friendly to eat local food, but … is this really true? Is there a scientific basis for asserting this?

But what’s more amazing than simply describing a fact? Analyzing data! And we have found a great source of info that solves all our doubts concerning the origin of food chain greenhouse emissions: Our World in Data

So, let’s find out where the emissions from bananas come from.

If you had concerns because the banana that reaches your table comes from far away … don’t worry!

Because the key to reducing your carbon footprint does not lie in the point of departure of your food but in its nature.

Everyday we are more concerned about climate change. We care about the environment and the impacts that human activities generate in it. Among these activities is transportation. A process from the supply chain that accounts for a very small percentage of emissions. Therefore, sometimes eating locally has a significant impact on the carbon footprint. Why? Because, as we have already mentioned, transport is not responsible for a large share of food’s final carbon footprint (Source: Our World in Data).

The conclusion that to eat certain local food has many times the carbon footprint of most other foods was addressed by “the largest meta-analysis of global food systems to date, published in Science by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018)” (Source: Our World in Data). 

Carbon footprint food article

Source: Science Journal, VOL. 360, NO. 6392

Poore and Nemecek analyzed the greenhouse emissions across the whole supply chain. That is, the emissions generated by each of the following stages of the food supply chain:

  • Land use change: aboveground changes in biomass from deforestation, and belowground changes in soil carbon.

  • Farm: Methane emissions from cows, methane from rice, emissions from fertilizers, manure, and farm machinery.

  • Animal feed: on-farm emissions from crop production and its processing into feed for livestock.

  • Processing: emission from energy use in the process of converting raw agricultural products into final food items.

  • Transport: emission from energy use in the transport of food items in-country and internationally.

  • Retail: emission from energy use in refrigeration and other retail processes.

  • Packaging: emissions from the production of packaging materials, material transport and end-of-life disposal.

Below you can find the GHG emissions per kilogram of bananas among the whole supply chain. It shows bananas have one of the smallest carbon footprints compared to other foods that can be grown locally. 

Greenhouse emissions bananas chart

And although transport is the biggest emitter of GHG in the supply chain of bananas, it is responsible for a tiny part considering the global production of all foods. In fact, as Our World in Data highlights, “Food transport was responsible for only 6% of emissions, whilst dairy, meat and eggs accounted for 83%” (Source: Sandström, V., Valin, H., Krisztin, T., Havlík, P., Herrero, M., & Kastner, T. (2018). The role of trade in the greenhouse gas footprints of EU diets. Global Food Security, 19, 48-55.4).

In a nutshell, choosing our daily nourishments according to their classification (vegetables, cereals, meat, …) can reduce greenhouse gas emissions far more than eating only locally.

So, considering that the carbon footprint of bananas is particularly low, what matters is the right choice of transport. And sea transport is the right one. Food flown by air is the most pollutant way of transport. Fortunately, most food comes by boat, with emissions that are markedly lower than those caused by flying. 

In fact, “Transporting food by air emits around 50 times as much greenhouse gasses as transporting the same amount by sea.” (Source: Our world in data”).

Emission factors for freight by transport mode (kilograms of CO2eq per tonne-kilometer)

CO2 Emissions per type of transport

*Emissions factors by transport mode applied in the analysis by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018), published in Science and sourced from Ecoinvent.

Our best food choice? The food that makes us happy, but also the planet. Hence, consume locally but not so often, and enjoy your daily bananas  ;-).

carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, place or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).[1] Greenhouse gases, including the carbon-containing gases carbon dioxide and methane, can be emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, land clearance and the production and consumption of food, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, transportation and other services (Source: Wikipedia).

What’s the problem with the GHG? The GHG are responsible for global warming because they trap heat that would otherwise escape from the atmosphere.