Easter eggs hunted: Environmental concerns surround the chocolate treats

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30 Mar 2018 --- Typical Easter indulgence in chocolate eggs may well come with associations of calorie guilt for some consumers, but recent research has cast a darker shadow on the chocolate treats, indicating their potential environmental damage. Researchers at the University of Manchester estimate that the UK chocolate industry produces 2.1m tones of greenhouse gases per year and that it takes a heavy 1000 liters of water to produce one chocolate bar. The packaging that accompanies the Easter eggs add the proverbial icing to the cake, campaigners claim.

“Cocoa is cultivated around the equator in humid climate conditions, mainly in West Africa and Central and South America, so it has to travel some distance before it makes it into the chocolate products we produce and consume in the UK,” says Professor Adisa Azapagic, Head of Sustainable Industrial Systems at Manchester University.

“Most of us love chocolate, but don’t often think of what it takes to get from cocoa beans to the chocolate products we buy in the shop.”

Chocolate is the UK’s favorite confectionary product, with the nation preferring milk over dark chocolate. The industry was worth around £4 billion in the UK in 2014 and is set to grow by a further 9 percent by 2019. On a global scale, the UK is the sixth highest chocolate-consuming country in the world. On average each person individually gets through approximately 8 kg per year, which is equivalent to around 157 Mars bars.

However, the study points out that the cocoa itself raps up a carbon footprint during its travel-time alone and, the high use of milk powder in chocolate also adds to the robust environmental statistics reported. The production of milk powder is very energy intensive, and the dairy cows themselves produce significant GHG emissions per liter of milk produced.

Overall, from a comparison of the environmental impacts of milk chocolate bars, sharing bags and snack chocolates, the team found that the worst for the environment were the sharing bags due to their ingredients and bigger packaging.

The packaging alone can account for up to a quarter of the total weight of many favorite Easter eggs on the British high street, consumer group, Which?, reported earlier this month. They asserted that once the volume of cardboard, plastic and foil in each egg was measured, the weight percentages due to packaging varied from 25 percent to 28 percent.

So, can we enjoy Easter Eggs responsibly?
Consumer group Which? further reported positively on the actions of retailers and manufacturers, as this year, almost all of the packaging from the eggs in the study were in fact, completely recyclable.

Therefore, in light of knowledge around the impact of Easter egg production on the environment, from water usage, greenhouse gasses and packaging, the simple answer may arguably be to eat sensibly, limit waste and recycle your packaging.

“The point of this study is to raise consumers’ awareness and enable more informed choices. Also, we hope this work will help the chocolate industry to target the environmental hotspots in the supply chains and make chocolate products as sustainable as possible,” adds Azapagic.

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