Environmental impacts of conventional versus organic eggplant cultivation systems: Influence of electricity mix, yield, over-fertilization, and transportation

Spyros Foteinis, Maria Hatzisymeon, Alistair G. L. Borthwick, Efthalia Chatzisymeon

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Abstract

We report a comparative environmental study of organic and conventional open-field eggplant cultivation systems under Mediterranean (northern Greece) climatic conditions. Actual life cycle inventory (LCI) data were collected from local farm systems. Using life cycle assessment (LCA), organic eggplant cultivation exhibited better environmental performance per unit area (24.15% lower total environmental footprint compared to conventional cultivation), but conventional cultivation performed better per unit of mass (28.10% lower total environmental footprint compared to organic cultivation). The conventional system attained higher scores in eutrophication (up to 37.12%) and ecotoxicity (up to 83.00%) midpoint impact categories, due to the use of chemical fertilizer and pesti-cide. This highlights the need for spatially explicit LCA that accounts for local environmental impacts at the local scale. For both cultivation systems, the main environmental hotspot was groundwater abstraction for irrigation owing to its infrastructure (drip irrigation pipes and pump) and electricity consumption from the fossil fuel-dependent energy mix in Greece. Excessive addition of soil fertilizer greatly affected the environmental sustainability of both systems, especially conventional cultiva-tion, indicating an urgent need for fertilizer guidelines that enhance environmentally sustainable agricultural practice worldwide. Results were sensitive to lower marketable fruit yield, with the organic system performing better in terms of environmental relevance with respect to maximum yield. When renewable energy sources (RES) were used to drive irrigation, both systems exhibited reductions in total environmental footprint, suggesting that RES could help decarbonise the agricultural sector. Finally, eggplant transportation greatly affected the environmental sustainability of both cultivation systems, confirming that local production and consumption are important perquisites for environmental sustainability of agricultural products.

Original languageEnglish
Article number23
JournalEnvironments
Volume8
Issue number3
Early online date20 Mar 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

Keywords

  • Agricultural sector
  • Aubergine
  • Life cycle analysis
  • Nightshade
  • Non-organic farming
  • Renewable energy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment

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