Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sugar’s Eco Footprint

The past couple of weeks have had me preoccupied with sugar. Green sugar and gangrene sugar have been covered. Now I will discuss sugar facts and the enormous burden this sweet nectar places on the planet. We all know that sugar is a health hazard and high fructose corn syrup is even a greater health hazard but did we know that sugar consumes enormous quantities of water for its cultivation on an enormous amount of land?

Some sugar facts

As a fraction of total mass sugar cane has less fraction of sugar (sucrose) in its stalk than beet sugar has in its bulb – about 13.5% versus 16.5%

Sugar cane stalks contain approximately 73.5% water, beet sugar bulbs contain approximately 75% water

Sugar cane stalks when crushed are called bagasse and this is the fibrous material in the stalk. The bagasse accounts for approximately 13% of the mass of the stalk. The bagasse is 98% fiber and only 2% protein. With this low protein content bagasse is a poor animal feed.

Beet pulp is the fiber that remains when sugar beet bulbs are crushed. The pulp amounts to approximately 8.5% of the mass of the beet. The beet pulp is 90% fiber and about 10% protein. As beet pulp has a good fraction of protein it can be used as an animal feed.

Beet sugar accounts for about 30% of world table sugar production and cane sugar the remaining 70%.

In 2010 approximately 150 million metric tons of dry table sugar was produced worldwide

In 2008 the US harvested just over 1 million acres of sugar beets at an average harvest of 26 tons per acre, with a yield of 16.5% sucrose this equals 4.3 tons of sucrose per acre per year

In 2008 the US harvested just over 900,000 acres of cane sugar at an average harvest of 33 tons per acre, with a yield of 13.5% sucrose this equals 4.4 tons of sucrose per acre per year

It takes an acre of land to yield about 4.4 short tons (4 metric tons) of sucrose whether derived from beets or cane

In the California Imperial Valley and acre of sugar beet needs 6 acre feet of pumped water per year, therefore each metric ton of sugar produced in the Imperial Valley need 1.5 acre feet of water. An acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons. Each pound of sugar therefore requires 245 gallons of water just for the cultivation. The purification and of table sugar is also water intensive.

A two liter bottle of regular cola has 0.53 pounds of sugar, therefore it takes 130 gallons of irrigation water simply to produce the sugar for a single 2 liter bottle of regularly sweetened soda. The sugar beets needed for this one soda bottle require about 4 square feet of land.

If you buy a similar sized soda that is zero calorie that is sweetened with Sweet.zeroTM you are saving your body harm and certainly helping the planet.