Australians have a love affair with Easter, most probably because it’s the perfect excuse to over-indulge in chocolate. After all, what other day of the year is it acceptable to eat chocolate for breakfast?
Last year, Australians spent more than a whopping $210 million on chocolate for Easter. Yikes! However, we don’t just limit our chocolate consumption to Easter. Statistics show that during a typical 4-week period, 68.3% of us treat ourselves to chocolate.
Unfortunately, our obsession with chocolate at Easter (and throughout the year) may be doing us more harm than good — and we’re not talking about the effect on your waistline!
Costing our wallets
Easter chocolates — those shaped into eggs, bunnies, chickens — can cost up to 5 times as much as regular chocolate, simply it’s been moulded into an Easter-themed shape. In addition, the extra packaging, which we really don’t need, pushes the price up even more.
Costing our planet
While the packaging is adding to the cost of our Easter chocolates, it’s also weighing down the environment. Many Easter products on our shelves are over-packaged and include plastic wrap, plastic grass, plastic baskets, foil wrapping, and cardboard boxes.
A study in the UK, where similar Easter products are sold, found that plastic and cardboard made up an average of 25% of the product weight. Some products were as high as 36.4%. Say what?
It may surprise you to discover that manufacturing chocolate and producing the average Easter egg uses far more water than any other food production process. For every kilogram of chocolate produced, 24,000 litres of water — enough to fill a backyard swimming pool — is used.
In a country like Australia, where water is a precious commodity, and our water supply is under threat due to climate change, it’s imperative we begin to use water wisely.
A recent study found the carbon footprint of chocolate in general is considerable. Cocoa is cultivated near the equator in humid climate conditions, mostly in West Africa and Central and South America. This means that it has to travel some distance before it is processed into chocolate products.
Chocolate’s raw materials, including milk powder, cocoa derivatives, sugar and palm oil are also major environmental villains, as these all contribute to deforestation, while the production of milk powder is contributing to climate change. If that’s not enough, add the manufacturing process and the packaging, and then the transport to distribute the end product and you have a considerable impact on the environment.
Obviously, the more packaged your Easter egg is, the higher the carbon footprint. In particular, sharing bags with individually wrapped eggs are the worst.
While not all chocolate brands use palm oil, some of them do. Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable in the world, and its production has been linked to deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change and the abuse of indigenous rights. Fortunately, the palm oil industry is now regulated certified sustainable palm oil is being used in some products.
As well as costs to the environment, chocolate production affects communities and livelihoods. Even though there is a growing demand for cocoa, many small producers are still struggling to earn a sustainable living. A combination of ageing and diseased cocoa trees, plus rising production costs mean growers and their families are still poor. This poverty perpetuates child labour and unfair terms of trade.
The palm oil industry also impacts may people. Often, many local people have no choice but to become plantation workers, often working in poor or degrading conditions. Some of them earn barely enough to support their families, while in some remote areas of Indonesia and Malaysia, child labour is common. What the?
Tips for an eco-friendly Easter
After reading the above, you might be wondering if you should be eating chocolate at all? The good news is, you can have a more sustainable Easter — and enjoy chocolate throughout the year — by being wise when making your decisions around chocolate.
LOOK FOR CHOCOLATE ALTERNATIVES
When it comes to Easter, do you really need to overload your children with chocolate? There are lots of other alternatives that don’t involve chocolate, that your little ones will love. Think books, home-baked Easter cookies, or organic or eco-friendly toys.
Where possible, choose chocolate products made locally. Not only will you be supporting a local business, but you’ll be reducing the carbon footprint associated with your eggs.
LOOK FOR FAIR TRADE
Choose chocolate that has the Fair Trade logo. Buying products with this logo means that growers are receiving guaranteed, minimum prices for their cocoa, as well as an investment into their local communities, which means a better quality of life for them and their families.
Companies producing Fair Trade chocolate include Chocolatier, Alter Eco, Oxfam Australia, Aldi, Whittakers, Green and Black’s, and Cadbury. However, not all of these companies’ products are Fair Trade. If you can’t find an egg or a bunny with the Fair Trade logo on it, consider buying their regular block – you’ll save on cost and packaging! A full list of certified Fair Trade brands can be found at their website.
CHOOSE SUSTAINABLE BRANDS
There are many chocolate brands that employ sustainable practices and proudly display the UTZ logo. UTZ products support sustainable farming and work practices for tea, coffee, hazelnuts and chocolate. UTZ have now joined forces with the Rainforest Alliance, an organisation dedicated to bringing benefits to forests, communities, and wildlife in vulnerable landscapes around the world.
CHOOSE QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Choosing higher quality chocolate — that is made using sustainable practices — over cheaper products that use ingredients that compromise the planet and its people is one way to make your Easter more eco-friendly.
DARK OVER MILK
Dark chocolate produces a smaller carbon footprint that milk chocolate, as it uses less milk powder and sugar — both of which contribute to carbon emissions.
CUT BACK ON PACKAGING
Choose Easter products that have the least amount of packaging. Choose individual wrapped bunnies and eggs, instead of those that are wrapped and boxed. Avoid plastic grass if you’re making up an Easter basket. Shredded paper or recycled wool make excellent alternative ‘nests’. If you really want to make a difference to the environment and your wallet, choose regular chocolate products instead of Easter-themed ones.
RECYCLE ANY WRAPPINGS
If you do choose Easter gifts that are packaged, ensure you recycle correctly. Moulded plastic and cardboard can be recycled in your kerbside bin while you can take soft plastic wrappings to your supermarket to be recycled.
While foil can be recycled, loose foil is too small to be captured at the recycling centre, so scrunch it up into a ball — around the size of a tennis ball — before throwing it in your recycling bin.
Easter is a special time for adults and children alike, but we don’t have to compromise the future of our planet and our fellow humans, by getting caught up with all the hype. By understanding how our celebrations impact our world, we can collectively make better decisions that will benefit us all.