Are Avocados Bad For The Environment?

The Eco Experts

Avocados need around 15 times more water than apples need to grow

Two avocados have double the carbon footprint of one kilogram (kg) of bananas

The carbon footprint of beef is around ten times higher than avocados


After years of debate, avocados are still a topic of controversy. While some people praise them as being a miracle superfood, others use them as an example as to why millennials can’t afford a house.

Both these statements are exaggerated, but what is true is that one of the nation’s favourite toast toppings isn’t as sustainable as you might think.

Although avocados are still far better for the environment than meat, their popularity in the last ten years has led to mass production, which is putting a strain on the environment.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the environmental impact of avocados, which countries export and import them the most, and what the greener alternatives are.

Sliced avocados on toast on a stoneware plate

How bad are avocados for the environment?

Avocados – or at least the large-scale production of avocados – have a relatively high carbon footprint.

Just two avocados, weighing around 480 grams (g), have a carbon footprint of around 850g of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), according to Carbon Footprint Ltd. That’s 425g of CO2e per avocado.

This is a lot when you consider that one banana has a carbon footprint of around 80g of CO2e. That means the carbon footprint of two avocados is twice as high as the carbon footprint of one kilogram (kg) of bananas – another popular exotic fruit.

Despite this, the carbon footprint of avocados is still lower than most animal products’ emissions. For example, beef has the highest carbon footprint of any food product, producing around 100 kg of CO2e per kilogram of beef. That’s around ten times the carbon footprint of avocados.

Why are avocados bad for the environment?

Avocados themselves are not bad for the environment, but their mass production and mass exportation is. These activities generate a lot of carbon emissions from shipping the products overseas, using a lot of water to grow them, and causing deforestation to make more space to grow avocados.

In terms of water use, it takes around 227 litres to grow just one avocado, compared to 15 litres of water to grow one apple. That means avocados use around 15 times more water than apples.

This can lead to water resources in local communities being taken away from crops that grow produce. This is because exporting avocados is much more profitable than the food grown for local consumption, so they are often prioritised.

But again, avocado production still uses less water than meat production. For example, you’d need around 15,415 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef, which mainly comes down to feeding the livestock.

Then there’s the matter of their carbon footprint. Most avocados consumed in the UK come from countries like Peru, Kenya, and Chile. If food has to travel far, more fuel needs to be used for transportation, which increases the food item’s carbon footprint. This increasingly common activity is referred to as ‘food miles’.

A lot of energy is also needed for refrigeration, to keep the food fresh. And since most of the energy we use comes from fossil fuels, this process generates more carbon emissions.

Avocados also need a lot of space to grow, and have been linked to deforestation in countries that produce them. In Mexico, the world’s largest producer of avocados, around 20,000 acres (80 square kilometres) are cleared yearly to make space for avocado production.

Deforestation is particularly bad for the environment – after all, fewer trees mean less carbon dioxide will be absorbed from the atmosphere. Deforestation can also lead to soil erosion, which can cause flooding.

Want to learn more? Take a look at why tree-planting schemes aren’t always the answer to deforestation on our page: Are Tree-Planting Schemes Actually Working?

On top of this, planting the same crop over and over again on the same land can lead to soil depletion, which means it becomes harder to grow crops in the future.

All of this is bad for the local communities in countries that mass produce avocados.

Which country exports the most avocados?

Mexico exports the most avocados, accounting for around 55%–60% of global exports. Peru is the second-largest exporter of avocados, making up around 22% of global exports. This is followed by Chile, Kenya, and South Africa.

Here’s a table showing how many tonnes of avocado each country exported in 2021:

Country

Avocado export quantities (in tonnes)

Mexico

1.4 million

Peru

542,000

Chile

98,000

Kenya

95,000

South Africa

53,000

*Data from a 2021 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Which country imports the most avocados?

Together, North America and Europe are the largest importers of avocados, with North America accounting for 52% of imports, and Europe for 33%.

The United States imports the most avocados out of any country, shipping in around 1.2 million tonnes in 2021, with 89% of them coming from Mexico.

The Netherlands imports the most avocados in Europe, but it's also a transit hub that distributes avocados to other European countries – so residents don’t necessarily consume the largest amount of avocados.

Besides the Netherlands, the European countries that import and consume the most avocados are Spain, France, Germany, and the UK. In 2021, the UK imported 114,000 tonnes of avocados.

worker in a field holding plastic crate filled with avocados

Is the carbon footprint of avocados getting better or worse?

The carbon footprint of avocados is getting worse, since the amount being exported keeps increasing. And despite people raising their concerns over the past few years, not much has changed in the way avocados are produced.

But the biggest problem with avocados isn’t their carbon footprint, it’s their water footprint – in other words, the amount of water it takes to grow them on a mass scale.

Avocados need a lot more water to grow than other fruits and vegetables. And because they’re in high demand, countries that produce and export avocados, such as Mexico, are drawing water away from other crops that are meant for the local residents.

The pressure to keep up with the demand for avocados is also still being linked to deforestation and soil degradation.

To make matters worse, the negative environmental impact of avocados will get worse if demand keeps increasing, as it is expected to do. Avocados are still very popular in North America and Europe, and they are gaining popularity in East Asia – especially in Indonesia and China.

Want to know about your own carbon footprint? Go to our page on the average carbon footprint in the UK.

Why have avocados become so popular?

Avocados are popular because of their supposed health benefits. They have been marketed as a ‘health food’ or ‘superfood’ since around the 2010s, when global sales of avocados increased by 21%, according to the International Trade Centre.

The popularity of foods like guacamole and avocado on toast have also helped to skyrocket avocado sales and production.

Avocados are often praised for being a source of ‘good’ monounsaturated fat, fibre, and other nutrients, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium, to name a few.

And while it’s true that avocados contain these nutrients, they can also be found in other foods that are grown locally in the UK, such as beets, potatoes, and oranges.

Greener alternatives to avocados

If you enjoy eating avocado on toast, you could try swapping them out for a lemony broad bean or pea mash. Although these combinations don’t taste exactly the same as avocados, they do offer a similar visual and textural experience.

Both peas and broad beans can be produced in the UK, and growing them doesn’t use a lot of water. This means that locally grown peas and broad beans have a low carbon footprint and water footprint.

They also share a lot of the same nutrients as avocados, such as magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C. Plus, they’re rich in iron, which avocados are not.

If you eat avocados because of their monounsaturated fats and fibre, you could try peanut butter instead. Although peanuts aren’t as environmentally friendly as peas, and aren't grown locally, peanut production is still much less water-intensive than avocado production.

If you need more inspiration for your avocado alternatives, a student at Central Saint Martins invented a sustainable version of the avocado that she calls the ‘Ecovado’ in 2022. She used a blend of broad beans, hazelnuts, apple, and rapeseed oil – all ingredients produced in the UK.

Summary

Although avocados aren’t the worst food for the environment, growing them on a mass scale isn’t sustainable. This is because of the large amount of water they need to grow, and the fact that they can’t be grown locally in countries like the UK, where they are in high demand.

The solution isn’t to cut avocados out of our diets altogether, but to reduce the amount that we consume.

If you eat several avocados a week, you might want to start swapping them out occasionally for some alternatives, like a pea or bean mash.

Want to go a step further? Check out how to grow veg from the comfort of your home. Alternatively, learn how to reduce your food waste.

Written by:
Tatiana has written about multiple environmental topics, including heat pumps, energy-efficient household products, and solar panels. She is dedicated to demystifying green tech to make eco-friendly living more accessible.
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