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Scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK have published a study that evaluates life-cycle environmental impacts associated with chocolate products made and consumed in the UK.

The results of the work will be of interest to policy makers, chocolate producers and consumers, helping them to make more informed decisions towards sustainable production and consumption of chocolate products.

Their paper focuses on three representative chocolate products occupying 90 per cent of the market: ‘moulded chocolate’, ‘chocolate countlines’ and ‘chocolates in bag’. The impacts were estimated using life cycle assessment (LCA) as a tool and following the ReCiPe impact assessment method.

The water footprint was also considered. For example, the global warming potential ranges between 2.91-4.15 kg CO2 equivalent, primary energy demand from 30-41 MJ and the water footprint, including water stress, from 31-63 litres per kilogram of chocolate.

“The raw materials are the major hotspots across all impact categories for all three product types, followed by the chocolate production process and packaging,” said the authors of the study. “The raw material impacts are mainly due milk powder, cocoa derivatives, sugar and palm oil.

“The sensitivity analysis shows that the results for global warming potential are sensitive to land-use change (LUC) associated with cocoa production, increasing the impact of the chocolate products by three to four times if LUC is involved.

The improvement opportunities targeting the key contributing stages suggest that GWP of chocolates could be reduced by 14-19 per cent.

Chocolate countlines have the highest contribution to the total impacts at the UK level (37-43 per cent), followed by chocolates in bag (28-33 per cent).

Moulded chocolates and other chocolate confectionery make up the rest of the impacts, with a roughly equal share each.

Chocolate consumption in the UK contributes 4.7 per cent to the primary energy consumption and 2.4 per cent to the GHG emissions from the whole food and drink sector.

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