The Environmental Impacts of Chocolate




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Chocolate is an incredibly popular treat. And while there are people who don’t like chocolate they would appear to be in the minority.

Figures suggest that the average person in the UK eats over 8kg of chocolate a year or around 3 bars a week. That’s a lot. And it’s easy to see how the quantities add up. A cup of hot chocolate, a few choccy biscuits, a slice of chocolate cake or a brownie and of course a bar of chocolate.

Chocolate has well and truly become part of our culture. We associate it with our festivals and holidays, in particular valentines, easter and Christmas, we give it as gifts, and we know that it enhances our mood and makes us feel better not to mention studies have shown it to be good for our health.

But, there is a darker side to chocolate. A recent study of the UK chocolate industry looked at the impact of chocolate from production and ingredients to packaging and waste. It found that the UK industry produces 2.1million tones of greenhouse gasses a year and that it takes up to 1000 litres of water to produce a single bar of chocolate.

The growing of cocoa is responsible for huge amounts of deforestation. Without proper planning and intervention, this is set to continue as many of the world cocoa plants are past their peak production years and yet demand is showing no signs of falling. Large scale plantations also lead to soil degradation. Cocoa grows best alongside other crops that provide it shade and protect the soil meaning production is more suited to smaller farms and cooperatives.

And it isn’t just cocoa-growing that is the problem, other ingredients play a part as well. Producing milk powder is very energy-intensive and dairy farms produce a lot of greenhouse gasses.

What we can do to reduce the impact

Other than eating less chocolate what can we do to reduce the environmental impact of our favourite treat and ease that bitter taste?

Well there are a few things. Firstly choose a brand that is fair trade or better. When farmers are fairly paid for their crops they are less likely to overburden the land and much more likely to farm it sustainably. Fairtrade also provides a premium to support education and works with farmers to help them build their productivity without needing to cut down virgin forests.

Another thing to look out for is the packaging. You don’t need to buy chocolate bars wrapped in plastic. And while that might take a bit of getting used to changing your brand is a small price to pay. There are lots of amazing chocolatiers that produce our delectable favourite that is wrapped in recyclable or even compostable packaging.

Finally consider changing your chocolate habits. A small amount of great quality dark chocolate could easily give you the same chocolate hit and satisfy the same cravings as a large bar of cheap milk chocolate.

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