Like all foods, apples contain carbon. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is released when food is eaten or allowed to rot, and plants absorb this CO2 during the process of photosynthesis. This is part of a short-term carbon cycle.
However, the production and distribution of food also uses energy that produces greenhouse gases such as CO2 and overall, global food production and its supply chain is responsible for about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
From farm to consumer, apples may have involved the use of farm machinery, fertilisers and chemicals, packing and packaging, cold storage, and transportation. These add to global warming potential. However, improved orchard management and use of renewable energy along the product lifecycle can reduce this.
A recent study assessed that, through this lifecycle to consumption in the UK, apples produce 1.4kg CO2 equivalent per kg of fruit. They were ranked the fifth best of 17 fruits consumed in the UK when assessed across 19 environmental impacts. The most damaging fruit in the study was found to be airfreighted mangoes, producing three times the amount of CO2 equivalent compared to apples. Beef has elsewhere been found to cause much more greenhouse gas per kg than apples.
Because apples grow on trees that can live for many years, growing apples and planting new apple orchards can also be good for carbon sequestration. However, the carbon flux in any one year will vary. A detailed study of a range of orchards in Herefordshire, both traditional and commercial bush, showed that apple orchards are long-lived stores of carbon in the tree wood, roots, and untilled soil beneath the trees.