Oranges or apples: Why is one so much worse for the planet?

One Change: Switching over could significantly reduce your carbon footprint

Switching from orange juice to apple juice may not save the world, but it can have a surprisingly effective impact on improving it. Orange juice is a staggeringly energy-demanding product, with at least 25 tonnes of different materials required to produce a single tonne of orange juice, including 22 tonnes of water and 0.1 tonne of fuel.

Ample doses of fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides are sprayed through almost all orange groves, and the dreaded glyphosate (which destroys beneficial gut bacteria and may stimulate breast cancer) was recently found in five major American OJ brands, including Tropicana and Minute Maid.

What’s more, our consumption of it directly contributes to the destruction of native forests in Brazil, which is the world’s largest producer of oranges. They tear down the forest to establish new groves.

Compare this to apple trees that grow wild in many Irish hedgerows and support 93 different species of native insects, plus native birds and other wildlife. Each apple tree is a miniature biosphere that provides vital early pollen and nectar for honey bees and wild bees in spring and it keeps on giving out goodness through the summer and autumn as its fruit provides food for foxes, badgers and hedgehogs, until the last few rotting apples slowly feed insects, worms and mycelium in the soil in the dead of winter.


Ireland, as it happens, is an ideal place to grow apples and if we switch from drinking the likes of Squeez or Tropicana to Irish-grown apple juice, we help support the process of re-establishing our orchards, which at one time supplied all our apple requirements, as well as a significant amount of the Bramleys that England consumed. We now import 95 per cent of our apples, having replaced hundreds of thousands of carbon-sequestering apple trees with carbon-emitting cattle.

Gradually, the process of re-establishing our orchards is taking root, with local apples now for sale at farmers’ markets in every county in autumn and winter, with bottled Irish apple juice available all year.

Compare this environmental and community-nurturing local juice with the energy required to irrigate, fertilise, harvest and transport bulky oranges 8,000km across the ocean from Brazil. By concentrating the orange juice at source, some energy savings are made on transport, but the vast power required in this vacuum evaporation process, and then rehydrating it later with fresh water far outstrips these savings.

This island of ours needs more trees, especially flowering trees that nurture pollinating insects, and we need to become more self-sufficient in terms of our food production. We currently import €850 million worth of fruit and vegetables, but by switching to juice made with local apples or berries, we can help achieve this.

And don’t worry too much about losing out on vitamin C; apples still contain significant levels of the vitamin, as well as calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin E. Studies have shown it can protect against skin, breast and colon cancer, and possibly even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.*

One Change is a new weekly column about the changes, big and small, that we can make in our daily lives for the good of the planet.

Manchán Magan is a writer and documentary-maker. He lives in his oak forest with hens and bees in a self-made hovel in Westmeath.

* This article was edited on June 24th to correct a factual error.