Globally, chocolate is one of mankind’s favourite treats. A staple on our shopping lists and a go-to for many when the sweet-tooth cravings hit, but when you look beyond the wrapper there are many reasons that chocolate isn’t quite so sweet. But is eating chocolate actually bad for the environment?
Unfortunately, like many mass-produced junk foods, the impact created by eating them is far greater than just our jeans feeling slightly more snug.
Explore below the 5 main reasons why chocolate is bad for the environment:
Like any crop, cocoa beans require a lot of water to ensure the crop yield is profitable for farmers. It’s reported that it takes 1,000 litres of water to produce just 1 small chocolate bar (it’s almost as bad as an avocado!). These numbers are even more staggering when you consider that the majority of cocoa is grown in West Africa where water is scarce.
Global warming means that water supplies have dwindled and locals find it increasingly difficult to access water supplies needed for survival.
Whilst the cocoa crops are being prioritised, natives are being left without. Drought means that land is left arid, infertile and unable to be used for anything. Not only does this cause issues in terms of finding clean drinking water but also when it comes to earning a living.
Huge swathes of inhabitable land unsuitable for farming is a loss of opportunities for locals to grow crops to earn a living.
Whilst cocoa is the headliner when we think about what’s in our chocolate, the main ingredient is actually milk. A cheap ingredient for manufacturers to use to create the textures and tastes we crave so much, cow’s milk is another reason we should think twice about what is going into our baskets and stomachs.
It’s no new discovery that dairy farming is one of the largest contributors to global warming and in particular the greenhouse gasses messing with the atmosphere. Methane emissions are the second most common gas emitted from humans and our activities; in 2014 methane, or CH4, made up 11% of the greenhouse gas emissions.
The ever-increasingly controversial industry of farming cattle has many layers of horror, from the water used on the farms to the conditions the animals are kept in, it’s easy to see why according to researchers the number of vegans in the UK has increased by 40% in 2020.
Whilst industry standards relating to the treatment of animals have been tightened up over the years, the small, dark conditions cattle are kept in still do not live up to the lush, green pastures we envisage in our minds.
Transportation and Packaging
From West Africa to Waitrose and Latin America to Lidl, the raw cocoa product has to get to us somehow and that process is not particularly eco-conscious.
There are many steps within the production of chocolate to turn the naturally bitter cocoa into the sweet, smooth bars we buy, all of which involve transportation and vast amounts of energy.
The cocoa has to be shipped from the fields where it is grown, stripped from its shell, combined with the other ingredients, poured, chilled, packaged, sealed and boxed all before it can be loaded into a container to be exported across the globe.
Whether it is a plane or boat, the footprint of transporting the chocolatey goods is no drop in the ocean.
When growing the sheer volume of cocoa needed to satisfy our western cravings, a huge chunk of rainforest and formerly habitable land is cleared to make way for rigorous planting.
Culling native species and destroying the once fertile land, monocultures are created which reduces the choice locals have in what they can plant.
Instead of having more wild and symbiotic selections of plants and crops growing together, they are left with a vast area of just one thing; cocoa.
This also eats into the space available to live on and use to grow crops that feed those living there. Giving up their own source of food and survival, all usable resources are now redirected to the growing of cocoa.
The ever-growing demand for chocolate has led to a similarly rapid expansion of cocoa farming land. This means farmers are being financially encouraged to clear tropical land to make way for cocoa trees.
Instead of planting one crop and waiting for that to grow and be harvested before reusing land and planting more, they are getting used to a far more unsustainable method of working.
Along the Ivory Coast, the effects of this insatiable desire for chocolate is becoming visible.
The direct effects on the environment where cocoa is grown sadly go further than just the soil it is grown in, the unethical practices used in its harvest will also leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
Where money is made, sadly exploitation follows and chocolate is no exception.
Spurred on by the profits made in growing the cocoa, farmers are always looking for ways to cut costs and increase their profit margins. One way that this is done is by exploiting the labour of children. Working long hours, given no rest and treated poorly, child workers are forced to work for little to no money.
Unfortunately in areas where opportunities are scarce, families often rely on the meagre earnings of every member of the family to make a living.
It is reported that in the 2013-2014 growing season, 2 million children are estimated to have been used for dangerous labour throughout Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
So What Can You Do?
If the effect the production of chocolate has on the environment has put you off forever, don’t panic, there are things you can do to make sure you get your sugary fix whilst minimising the harm done.
At the very least, ensure the chocolate you buy is fairtrade certified, to ensure the manufacturers are meeting slightly more rigorous standards than the cheapest on the market.
Organic and vegan options are also something to look out for. Whilst vegan alternatives do still contain cocoa, cow’s milk has been omitted meaning it’s slightly better for the environment and also your health!