Environmental assessment of orange juice

Fruit juice consumption in Germany has settled at just over 30 litres per capita over the past five years. This value is quite below the peak values of over 40 litres per capita from the 1990s to the 2010s, but on the other hand well above the values of the 1970s and 1980s.

Most popular juices

The production of orange juice

Worldwide, approximately 69 million tonnes of oranges are harvested per year. This makes them the most cultivated and traded citrus fruit. The orange was created about 4000 years ago by crossing mandarin and grapefruit. Currently there are around 400 different varieties, which differ in juice, sugar and acidity and thus also in taste. Brazil is the country with the largest production areas and the most important producer of orange juice concentrate and direct juice worldwide. Spain exports the most oranges for direct consumption globally. In the USA, large quantities of oranges are also grown for juice, but the juice is sold on the domestic market and therefore hardly plays a role in orange juice consumption in Germany. Accordingly, we looked at three cases more closely: 1. Direct orange juice; origin Brazil 2. Concentrate orange juice; origin Brazil 3. “Home pressing” from Spanish oranges
What is the difference between concentrate and direct juice? In the orange juice concentrate, water and aroma are removed from the juice after the pressing process. What remains is concentrate, which is frozen until shortly before the juice production and over the entire transport distance and has only about 17 % of the harvest weight. At the destination, water and the aroma obtained during concentration are added back to the concentrate. After that, the orange juice is pasteurised so that it remains durable. Direct juice is filtered after pressing and then heated to prevent the fermentation process. The orange juice is then either bottled directly or stored in large tanks for later bottling.

The climate balance of orange juice and apple juice

In order to produce a litre of orange juice, the same amount of fruit must be cultivated for the juice from concentrate as well as for direct juice, which is why the effort involved in growing is not different. Due to the larger mass of direct juice compared to the orange juice concentrate, the environmental loads of direct juice caused by transport are naturally higher. This is ultimately the reason why the climate balance of the direct juice with approx. 720 kg CO2 equivalents is slightly less favourable than that of the juice from concentrate with approx. 690 kg CO2 equivalents. If the customer presses his or her own orange juice, the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted is the lowest at approx. 650 kg CO2 equivalents, although the juice yield from self-pressing is lower than from the industrial production process. Despite the shorter distance, transport contributes significantly to the GHG balance. The transport of the whole orange by truck to the end customer is decisive here.

The picture on the left also shows that the climate footprint of apple juice from Germany is only about half as large as that of orange juice. The direct juice is more advantageous. This is mainly due to the fact that no energy is consumed in the production of concentrates.

The water balance of orange and apple juice

What impact does the application of fertilisers in the cultivation of oranges and apples have on waters? The graph on the left shows this measured as aquatic eutrophication in the form of so-called phosphate equivalents. In order to achieve high yields in agriculture, phosphorus and nitrogen are used. These two substances improve the growth of plants and thereby increase the harvest. Fertilisers that are not absorbed by the plant are washed out by rainfall, among other things. As a result, these substances are released into nearby surface waters and from there into groundwater. In consequence, the water quality deteriorates, e.g. through excessive nitrate levels, which can be harmful to health. Because the use of fertilisers per hectare of orange plantation in Brazil is particularly high, the values for orange juice are also higher. Oranges are grown in countries with suitable climates. However, the desired high yields usually require sufficient artificial irrigation. Fresh water is often a scarce resource anyway. In order to determine the environmental impact of fresh water extraction, the irrigation requirement is therefore multiplied by a scarcity factor. This results in the water scarcity potential of orange juice (picture left).
Behind the unit “m³ world equivalents” lies a complex methodological derivation. The method as such is based on a worldwide scientific consensus and can most easily be understood as a relative parameter. It is evident that orange cultivation in Spain poses a much greater threat to local water availability than that in Brazil. The minimum and maximum values reflect the water scarcity potential of the most important orange growing areas in Brazil and Spain.

Other environmental aspects

Orange juice is not a regional food. The logistical effort that has to be made until the juice reaches the end consumer in Germany is correspondingly high. Oranges from Spain are transported 1800 km by truck to Germany. Due to the fast transport, the fruits are available in retail stores shortly after harvesting. Brazil is the world’s largest orange juice producer. There, after harvesting, the oranges are transported to the juicer by truck over an average distance of 150 km. After completion of the concentrate or direct juice, the approximately 10.000 km long ship transport to Europe takes place. Once in the port of destination, another 700 km have to be covered by truck until the juice is available in retail trade. In addition, the orange juice concentrate still has to be mixed with water at its destination and then pasteurized.

Food Miles

For the ready-to-eat orange juices presented here, a beverage carton was assumed as the packaging. Its contribution to the CO2 footprint is less than 10 percent of the environmental impact caused by juice and packaging together. On the other hand, it accounts for about the difference to the unpacked juice that is self-pressed by the consumer. Retailers increasingly offer the possibility of pressing and filling orange juices directly on site. The PET bottles used for this are relatively heavy. We did not balance this consumption variant separately, but in our estimation the CO2 footprint of such juices is at least as high as that of the packaged ones.
Relevance of packaging


Andreas Detzel

Dipl. Biology
Scientific and Managing Director
+49 (0)6221 4767 0

Benedikt Kauertz

Dipl. Ing. Spatial and Environmental Planning
Scientific Director
+49 (0)6221 4767 57