The impact all of that chocolate candy has on the environment – and there’s a lot of it.
Want to know what’s really spooky about Halloween? The impact all of that chocolate candy has on the environment – and there’s a lot of it. Consumers in the United States are spending USD$2.6 billion this year on candy treats to celebrate, according to the National Retail Foundation, and that’s not counting European nations like the Netherlands, or countries like South Africa where the popularity of Halloween hijinks is taking off.
No one wants to spoil the fun, but in recent years environmental groups have paid more attention to climate impacts that aren’t so sweet. They range from deforestation tied to cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire, to excessive water used in chocolate production, to long distances in industry supply chains.
A 2018 study published in Food Research International by a University of Manchester team looked at three common types of chocolate made or enjoyed in the United Kingdom and evaluated their “hidden” climate costs. The team found global warming potential (GWP) ranges between 2.91 and 4.15 kg CO2 eq. with an average 10,000 liters of water needed to produce every kilogram of chocolate.
“The raw materials are the major hotspot across all impact categories for all three product types, followed by the chocolate production process and packaging,” the research team said. Those materials include cocoa products produced primarily in just seven countries, four of them in West Africa. They also include palm oil, an ingredient in many consumer products tied to deforestation and loss of wildlife habitat across the planet.
To their credit, some of the most globally recognized brands – Nestlé and Mondelēz among them – have vowed to clean up their supply chains and ensure sustainable cocoa is used. This year, Swiss companies joined their counterparts in Germany and the Netherlands in establishing targets ranging from 70 to 100 percent sustainably sourced cocoa in the next decade. Mondelēz is expanding its sustainability partnership with Cocoa Life into Brazil to protect Amazon rainforests. And at least 12 companies, including Mars and Cargill, made similar promises in 2017 to Britain’s Prince Charles and his International Sustainability Unit.
There’s still much work to be done. As the University of Manchester study noted, chocolate consumers account for 4.7 percent of the British food and drink sector’s primary energy use, and some 2.4 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions – making for a bitter edge to the sweet.
Meanwhile the environmental impact of chocolate continues to grow. From 2000 to 2014, global cocoa bean production increased by 32 percent and the land-use footprint of cocoa plantations grew by 37 percent, according to a 2017 study published by Chatham House.
“At the local level, forest loss is associated with increased temperatures and reduced rainfall, while globally, it is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” their report said, noting especially the impacts to Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. “While cocoa production is a factor driving climate change, the reverse is also true, as climate change is resulting in shifts in the areas of land suitable for cocoa cultivation.”
As countries and companies are stepping up their climate change commitments, so must consumers who are buying 300,000 tons of candy for Halloween in the U.S. alone. One solution is to look for products like Alter Eco’s candies, which are made with sustainability in mind right down to the recyclable or compostable packaging. Another is to expect more from the candy companies you love, choose those that are making commitments and insist on more transparency in their supply chains, and buy tasty no-trick treats that won’t give you an environmental fright.