Every week we bring you a simple idea for reducing your carbon footprint and protecting the planet. This week: why it’s important to make a sustainable chocolate choice this Easter.
The UK certainly has a sweet tooth. In Britain, we eat around 660,900 tonnes of chocolate every year – that’s the equivalent of three bars a week each. And come Easter – which has become synonymous with chocolate – this figure spikes, with more than 80 million boxed Easter eggs flying off the shelves.
Unfortunately though, the Easter Bunny leaves behind a rather large footprint – a carbon footprint, that is. According to research from the University of Manchester, the UK's chocolate industry produces an estimated 2.1 metric tonnes (2.3 tonnes) of greenhouse gases a year — roughly equal to the annual emissions produced by the city of Belfast.
Looking further afield, things aren’t much sweeter. Demand for cocoa is fast rising and producers are struggling to keep pace particularly due to global warming. It can take an entire year for a cocoa tree to produce the cocoa needed to make just half a pound of chocolate. Older trees also yield less cocoa, and most of the world’s cocoa plantations are well past their peak production years. Cocoa farmers also usually clear tropical forests to plant new cocoa trees rather than reusing the same land, which has led to mass deforestation, which is bad news for climate change – forests are vital in mitigating harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, overseas cocoa industries often rely on child labour and unethical practices that keep many families trapped in cycles of poverty.
But that’s not to say that all chocolate is bad – in fact, supporting some chocolate brands can actually have a beneficial impact on the planet thanks to investment in sustainable farming techniques and ethical business systems. Not all chocolate is created equal, so which one do you choose?
There are some obvious green lights when it comes to choosing a sustainable Easter egg. The Fairtrade label indicates that the person growing the chocolate receives a fair wage and working conditions, and there’s no use of child labour along the supply chain. Products labelled organic are also good picks. Synthetic pesticides and herbicides threaten insect populations, contaminate water sources and can have ecosystem-wide knock-on effects, so look for organic certification to avoid ingredients grown with these chemicals, and to support farming methods that are more in tune with nature.
Also, take a look at the packaging. Many Easter eggs come needlessly wrapped in multiple layers of foil, cardboard and plastic – much of which will end up in landfill or strewn around natural habitats. Always go for the lightly-packaged choice that some of the big brands are supporting.
Finally, look for sustainable palm oil certification. The world’s appetite for palm oil has led to serious pollution and high levels of deforestation around the globe – choosing a brand that sources its palm oil responsibly (or doesn’t use it at all) is a must.
There a lot of factors to take into account, and many of us don’t have the time to pore laboriously over labelling and ingredients list. As such, take a look at Ethical Consumer’s league table of sustainable Easter eggs. This guide reveals which companies to avoid (such as Nestle and Mars), and which to give your business to. Cocoa Loco, Booja Booja and Moo Free are all high scorers that offer a mouth-watering range of chocolate treats – check their websites for stockists and online delivery deals.
The bottom line
Chocolate can have a significant environmental footprint, but it’s not really Easter without it. So forego the usual overly-packaged, questionably-sourced products that are vying for your attention on supermarket shelves, and make a more sustainable choice instead. Doing so sends an important message to companies that they need to take their impact on the climate seriously.
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