Are you mindful when unwrapping a bar of chocolate during your favourite Christmas movie?
This question is slightly misleading - I’m not interrogating consumption levels, but rather focusing on the packaging wrapped around your moments of indulgence. While the rustling sound of unwrapping a chocolate bar is satisfying to the senses, the negative impact packaging waste inflicts on the planet is catastrophic.
With the deadly combination of plastic pollution remaining a major environmental hazard and sales of chocolate predicted to grow by 13 per cent within the next five years to reach £6.66bn (according to chocolate market research conducted by Mintel), confectionary producers are finally eliminating unsustainable packaging. They are turning to more innovative solutions as pressure mounts for major chocolate manufacturers to build greater accountability to close the loop, support the circular economy and protect the planet.
Who is joining the fight against the plastic crisis?
Here are four chocolate manufacturers who are leading the way by demonstrating how packaging innovations and improved systems can strike sweet success without being detrimental to the planet.
There’s been more work than rest or play for the sustainability team at Mars in recent years as the company strives for systemic change in line with stakeholder demands. Mars Wrigley made recent headlines for unveiling its paper packaging which will be kerbside recyclable when it is rolled out next April, signalling the end to the original plastic wrappers.
The move will see Mars, Snickers and Milky Way bars encased in paper packaging, a goal which has been three years in the making, to reduce single-use plastic.
Once the transition is fully implemented, Mars Wrigley predicts it will remove 360 tonnes of plastic from its value chain, which, if stretched out, is the equivalent of flying from Melbourne to London and back.
Now if only it stretched all the way to Mars…
This Christmas sees Nestlé returning to its roots, with the introduction of paper wrappers for Quality Street chocolates, as the company aims to replace 2.5 billion individual foil and cellulose wrappers across the globe.
The first selection of Quality Street assorted chocolates in 1936 were wrapped in paper, and now the tradition has returned to paper (now just a single paper wrap) which will be kerbside recyclable.
Recycling is easier if the paper wrappers are scrunched together in a ball and added to other paper or placed in a paper envelope. Although the previous cellulose wrappers are home-compostable, they are unrecyclable for the kerbside recycling scheme, unlike the foil wrappers.
Responsible for brands such as Cadbury, Milka, Green & Black’s and Toblerone, the company is currently on track to achieve 100 per cent recyclable packaging by 2025.
By 2050 Mondelēz, a member of the UK Plastics Pact, aims to reach net zero waste and support the development of a circular economy by 2050, via three core company beliefs: less packaging, better packaging and improved systems.
Last year the company announced Cadbury Dairy Milk would be committed to using 30 per cent recycled plastic throughout the UK and Ireland, which will see more than 28 million sharing bars more sustainably wrapped by the end of this year.
Mondelēz has also committed to more than £215m investment in sustainability initiatives for its plastic products.
Tony’s Chocolonely started making great strides in the sustainability of its cocoa supply since its inception in 2005, by only operating in Ghana and Ivory Coast to protect the communities against slave labour.
The firm overhauled its wrappers in 2012, in favour of uncoated, recycled FSC-certified paper, made from a combination of recycled and FSC-certified paper, the latter from sustainably managed forests.
The Dutch company has also ensured its packaging protects its smaller Tiny Tony’s chocolates as well as the environment, via collaboration with paper expert Sappi.
The pouches are the result of brainstorming with Sappi who spent eight months overseeing the process before the Sappi Guard Nature MS was selected due to its paper-based and heat-sealable barrier paper.
While these are great steps from the FMCG sector, progression remains slow, despite the urgency for rapid transition. Sustainability and the climate agenda were placed on the back burner during the disruption of the pandemic when we witnessed major pharmaceutical companies brandishing newly developed vaccines in a bid to stop Covid-19 spreading.
If the same attention was lavished on implementing the systemic change necessary to combat the climate crisis and leverage innovative partnerships for more robust solutions, the plastic crisis would have a solid chance of losing the war against pollution. However, this outcome cannot be sugar-coated as time is of the essence and more companies still need to be held accountable for their processes.
Ruth Smith is a Consultant – Sustainable Business at Acre UK, specialising in the food and beverage space. During her time at Acre, Ruth has focused on the full lifecycle of sustainability roles and skillsets for companies such as Finlay’s, Marine Stewardship Council, Greene King and Compassion in World Farming. Ruth’s team has placed roles such as the Sustainability Reporting Manager for Greene King and Head of Sustainability and Climate Change Manager for Finlay’s, to address the pressing issues in animal welfare, food sustainability and agricultural supply chain improvements.