Fresh squeezed, never frozen, reconstituted or frozen concentrate?
My kids love orange juice. And I was raised on the notion that OJ was a great source of vitamin C and it should be served at breakfast every day. But I live in New England, and those oranges are grown in Florida or South America and trucked a long way to my table. So how green is orange juice? And what form of OJ's better from an environmental perspective — Fresh squeezed, never frozen, reconstituted or frozen concentrate?
PepsiCo recently did a "carbon footprint" analysis on their Tropicana OJ; measuring the emissions from energy-intensive operations like running a factory and transporting heavy cartons of juice. But the biggest single source of CO2 emissions was growing the oranges. It takes a lot of nitrogen fertilizer to grow conventional citrus, and that fertilizer takes a lot of energy to make. Taking into account growing, squeezing, pasteurizing, packaging, and shipping, they estimated 3.75 pounds of CO2 equivalent for every half gallon of Florida juice served on your table somewhere else in the United States. Convert it to liters and it's 1.98 pounds per liter for never frozen orange juice in the grocer's case.
To make concentrated frozen OJ, it takes additional energy to run evaporators to concentrate the juice and freeze it. But again the biggest impact is in growing the oranges. Here's how PepsiCo breaks it 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. Now growing the oranges organically without nitrogen fertilizers cuts the CO2 footprint a lot.
What about squeezing your own? Well turns out that there's a lot of packaging waste in shipping fresh oranges over just the juice. One account in Slate claimed nine times as much cardboard is required to ship enough fresh oranges to make the equivalent amount of frozen juice.
Non organic oranges also use more pesticides than any other food crop. And unless you live where arranges are grown, you pay for shipping one way or another. There is a refrigerated "juice train" that moves the juice from Florida to the Northeast, and a lot of refrigerated trucks that carry it to every nook and cranny.
Even if you squeeze your own, you have to throw away skins and pulp which have been shipped long distances, consuming energy and wasting CO2 every mile. This doesn't mean we can't enjoy a glass of orange juice for breakfast, but we can be aware of the impacts.
What's the greenest thing to do? Go local. Drink what grows near you. Here in New England that's apples, cranberries, and Concord grapes—all great juices. And I make some hard cider from my local apples. Vitamin C? Just eat enough fresh local fruits and veggies and you should do fine. Even potatoes have Vitamin C in them. And unless you live near a Superfund site, the greenest thing you can drink is the water flowing from your tap. Turns out that in most places, Orange is not Green.