Study analyzes the environmental impact of chocolate production — and it’s not pretty

For many people, chocolate is always in style. Especially with Easter fast approaching, chocolate is melting from the shelves just like it melts in your mouth. But while we don’t often think about it, chocolate isn’t cheap — not necessarily in terms of money, but in terms of environmental impact. A recent study by researchers at The University of Manchester has looked at the carbon footprint and other environmental impacts of product, and the results aren’t pretty.

The study analyzed lifecycle environmental impacts associated with chocolate products made and consumed in the UK, focusing on three products which make 90% of the market: ‘moulded chocolate’, ‘chocolate countlines’ and ‘chocolates in bag’. Yes, sadly, good old-fashioned chocolate seems to have fallen out of favor to its heavily processed competitors. But even so, chocolate is the UK’s favorite confectionary product, with the whole industry being worth over almost $6 billion.

The average British person consumes 8 kg per year, which is equivalent to around 157 Mars bars. Like most people, the Brits love their chocolate.

But here’s the thing: chocolate takes a lot of resources to produce. A kilogram of chocolate requires about 10,000 l of water to produce and emits 2.9–4.2 kg CO.Professor Adisa Azapagic, Head of Sustainable Industrial Systems at the Manchester University and study author, says:

“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.

“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.”

Cocoa, the main ingredient of chocolate (at least in good chocolate) is mainly cultivated around the equator in humid climate conditions. Countries like Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Ecuador, and Brazil are the major producers of cocoa beans. These are all quite far away from the UK, meaning that transportation also consumes a lot of resources. Packaging, and in some cases, refrigeration, are also significant.

But it’s not just the cocoa — the milk powder required to make milk chocolates is also very energy intensive, and the milk industry itself produces massive greenhouse gas emissions.

The bottom line is, chocolate takes a big toll on our planet. Researchers aren’t asking that people stop consuming it, but they’re urging people to at least be aware of this impact. Azapagic concludes:

“It is true that our love of chocolate has environmental consequences for the planet. But let’s be clear, we aren’t saying people should stop eating it.”

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

The study has been published in Food Research International.

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