Think Bottled Water Is Bad, Could Bottled Orange Juice Be Even Worse?

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You’d have to have been living under a rock for the past year, or perhaps exhibiting some willful ignorance, to have missed all the discussion about the environmental problems with the global bottled water industry. Here on TreeHugger, just last week, Pablo came to the conclusion that, yes, bottled water really is that bad. Which got us thinking: What about bottled juices? If it takes all those resources to bring you bottled water from some spring in Italy, or (gasp) an island way out in the Pacific Ocean, surely making and shipping orange juice around is even worse?

First there’s the bottle itself which is generally made of plastic, the manufacture of which, just for use in the bottled water industry as a whole, takes well over a million barrels of oil to manufacture per year, not to mention lots of water. Then there’s shipping those empty bottles to be filled, filling them, and then there’s... Ultimately this is what it looks like in a worst case scenario:

All told the carbon emissions resulting from producing a 1 liter bottle of water in Fiji and import in to the United States amount to about 0.55 pounds. And about 7 times as much water as contained in the bottle, which is perhaps the greater absurdity than the emissions themselves...

Breaking down the numbers of where those emissions come from, 39% come at the production stage (making the bottles and transporting them prior to filling) and the remaining 61% distributing the filled bottles.

So it’s pretty bad, especially when, if you're in any of the wealthy countries of the world, your tap water is probably just fine.

The Carbon Footprint of Orange Juice

Conveniently for the sake of comparison, just last week Tropicana released figures on the carbon footprint of its Pure Premium orange juice. Taking into account packaging, distribution, and orange growing and squeezing, the number they came up with was 3.75 pounds of CO2 equivalent per half gallon of juice from Florida grove to your table elsewhere in the United States. By the way, a half gallon is 1.89 liters, for the metrically challenged among TreeHugger’s readership.

So, compared to bottled water, the orange juice used in this example emits 3.6 times the greenhouse gas emissions: 1.98 pounds per liter for orange juice, and 0.55 pounds per liter for bottled water.

Remember that that bottled water example is pretty much a worst case scenario, shipping bottled water halfway around the world. If your bottled water comes from a more local source and those emissions resulting from distribution are lowered, then orange juice is even worse. And, more importantly, if you’re drinking tap water like (need I remind you?), you probably should be doing, orange juice is a comparative climate change nightmare.

How would frozen concentrated orange juice compare? Due to the fact that running the evaporators to make the concentrate requires a lot more energy than is required to process a not-from-concentrate juice like Pure Premium, drinking juice made from frozen concentrate increases the carbon footprint even further.

It’s Mostly in the Fertilizer

Interestingly though, the single largest source of the emissions of that juice comes from the fertilizer used to grow the oranges. Here’s how the carbon emissions break down: 35% fertilizer production and application, 23% processing the oranges into juice, 22% distributing the juice to stores, 15% packaging, 3% use and disposal, 2% transportation prior to juicing. The fertilizer alone produces more carbon emissions than the bottled water (0.69 pounds)!

Would Organic Farming Alone Help?

As fellow TreeHugger John Laumer pointed out, if they switched to organic farming methods and ditched the carbon intensive fertilizers, then the carbon footprint of Tropicana’s orange juice could lowered substantially.

But assuming there were zero emissions resulting from fertilizing those oranges, it would still result in 1.29 pounds of CO2 per liter of orange juice being emitted; still more than the bottled water from Fiji. Organic farming could help—and has plenty of other environmental benefits other than simply lowering carbon emissions from fertilizers—but it still requires some serious energy inputs to process all that juice, package and distribute it around the country.

What About Real Freshly-Squeezed?

What about juicing your own? There can be a lot more packaging waste involved in shipping whole oranges than orange juice (by one account cited in Slate nine times as much cardboard is required to ship enough oranges to make the equivalent amount of juice). Unless those oranges were produced organically, the majority of the emissions still would likely come from the fertilizer used in growing the oranges.

Citrus Is An Imported Luxury

Ultimately, unless you live in a place where the oranges are grown locally, there’s no way around the fact that strictly from the standpoint of carbon footprint, oranges (and all citrus) are an imported luxury in most of the United States.

images: Water bottles, Nick via flickr; Orange juice bottle,JW via flickr