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Fair-trade Chocolate- what it is & why it matters

Why Fair Trade Matters in Chocolate

Easter is right around the corner.  Did you know Easter trumps Valentine’s Day in chocolate consumption by well over double?  Only Halloween sales sell top chocolate over Easter. These classic bunny and egg-shaped treats are popping up in stores across the nation.

Over $2.6 billion dollars will be spent on candy this Easter season in the US alone.  Children around the world will wake up Easter morning to find chocolate in their Easter basket.  Unfortunately, there’s a sad side to this favorite treat that does not capture the spirit of the Easter season at all.

Chocolate statistics-

a pile of chocolate pieces

  • The US only accounts for 15% of the world’s chocolate consumption.  Most of the chocolate in the world is consumed in Europe- especially in Northern countries.

  • A large majority of chocolate is grown in Africa, yet only approximately 3% of the world’s chocolate is consumed there.

  • Cocoa grows within 20 degrees of the equator

  • Cocoa is actually a seed which goes through a multi-step process to become chocolate

  • Almost 2 million tons of chocolate are produced along the Ivory Coast- where child slave labor is a common practice

  • There are over 5 million cocoa farmers in the world

  • It takes 400 cocoa beans to produce 1 lb of chocolate

  • The chocolate industry makes over $100 billion per year

Slave Labor, Child Employment, Unfair Wages & the Dark Side of Chocolate

Awareness of fair, ethical, and safe labor practices is growing.  We often think of fair trade coffee or clothing. People are often surprised to find out chocolate has a dark side of production and growth.  (And it’s not delicious dark chocolate!)

Chocolate is actually grown, harvested, and processed quite similarly to coffee.  Regions, where coffee grows, are often regions chocolate is grown. While fair trade standards for coffee are becoming well known, chocolate has been overlooked.  Unsafe working conditions, low pay, and long hours are often part of the chocolate industry. Our sweet treats are coming at a high cost to those who have manufactured them.

roasted cocoa beans

  • An estimated 40% of chocolate is slave-grown

    • Accurate statistics could not be found indicating how much chocolate was manufactured under slavery conditions

  • At least 2 million children are working in slave-labor conditions in the chocolate industry

    • This number is likely drastically higher, over 29 million children are working in slavery conditions around the world

  • Child trafficking is rampant among cocoa farming

  • The average cocoa farmer makes between 50-81 cents per day

    • The global industry for extreme poverty is $1.90 per day

Chocolate’s Environmental Impact

The slave labor involved in chocolate isn’t the only concern.  Thousands of acres of land have been completely ravaged by unsustainable cocoa farming. There is also a massive environmental impact of transporting all the ingredients for chocolate around the world.  Plus many chocolate manufacturing plants don’t practice sustainable manufacturing. This accounts for massive amounts of pollution and waste worldwide.

Like coffee, cocoa does best when it is shade grown.  As you’re shopping for chocolate, you may see “shade grown” or organic on the label.  These are certifications that mean not only the yummiest product for you- but the best conditions for the environment as well!  Cocoa is a finkiy plant which only grows under very specific circumstances.

What Can We Do?

No, you don’t have to give up chocolate for good.  Growing awareness and international pressure on chocolate companies is creating positive change.  As with all things, the best option is to vote with your dollar. Look for fair trade certified chocolates when you shop.  Do a little bit of extra leg work and try to find chocolates that are manufactured with sustainable practices as well.

“Farm to bar” type chocolates are becoming more commonplace as well.  These are almost always fair trade chocolate. The chocolate company is involved in every step along the process.  They’re certifying growing and harvesting conditions, and manufacturing the cocoa themselves. Sometimes the cocoa will pass through several different hands before coming to yours as chocolate.  A “farm to bar” will all be done with only one company involved.

Vote with your dollar by not supporting companies with slave grown chocolate.  Spread the word to your family and friends as well. Take it a step further and let your voice be heard by contacting chocolate manufactures.  As the demand for fair trade chocolate rises, so will the pressure on companies to produce it.

Watch Your Sourcing

Green America provides a fantastic Chocolate Scorecard that rates chocolate based on their labor practices.  It’s even in a handy chart-form you can print and take to the store!

 

 

How to: Reduce Your Holiday Waste

How to: Reduce Your Holiday Waste

How to: Reduce Your Holiday Waste

Between Thanksgiving and New Years, Americans throw away approximately an extra 5 billion tons more trash!  Gift wrap is a major contributor. Less than 10% of gift wrap is recyclable. A large majority of gift wrap ends up in the recycling bin. But this excess waste is not only gift wrap.  Food scraps, unwanted gifts, packaging, disposable dishes, and decorations are among the other contributors to this waste.

Our Holiday Waste Travels A Long Way- But Not For Much Longer!

Most of the items we’re tossing are items manufactured in China. Ironically, this is where a large majority of our waste ends up too.  Back where it came from. Americans export a significant amount of trash to be processed at facilities in China. Already countless sites have stopped taking plastics.  We’re literally drowning in plastic waiting to be recycled. (Not to mention the tons and tons that have ended up in our waterways) Recycling plants here in the US have more than they’re humanly capable of recycling now too.  Plastics are frequently thrown out from recycling facilities. The same seems to be coming for paper. China’s paper recycling facilities have started rejecting our recycling. Even the recyclable gift wrap may not be getting recycled in the coming years!

One man’s trash is no longer another man’s treasure.  It’s become the entire world’s trash.

Why Isn’t My Wrapping Paper Being Recycled?

If recycling facilities are still accepting paper, for the time being,  why isn’t it being recycled? Because most wrapping papers are made out of materials that cannot be recycled!

The following types of wrapping paper CANNOT be recycled:

-Shiny paper
-Paper with glitter
-Glossy paper
-Embossed paper
-Velvety paper

The same rule applies for Holiday cards.  Photo cards and cards with glue also cannot be recycled. This eliminates a large majority of gift wrap and cards.  Plain paper cards and gift wrap can be recycled. You can’t recycle bows, ribbons, bags, or most gift tags. Bows and ribbon can jam machines and, in some cases, totally ruin them. Tape can be left on gift wrap, in most cases.   Unrecyclable items that get into the recycling bin can cause an entire lot of recycling to need to be thrown out. So be mindful of what gets tossed into the recycling!

brown pinecone on white rectangular board
Most gift wrap can’t be recycled, choose a nice natural option or fabric instead

How to Reduce Your Waste this Holiday Season (and all year long)

If most of the items we use this time of year can’t be recycled, what can we do? Fortunately, there are easy solutions you can implement this year!

  • Reuse bows, ribbon, tissue paper, and tags from year-to-year.  Or switch to fabric!

  • Change your shopping habits- a large majority of the waste is packaging material. Shop from companies who use minimal and recyclable packing.  Put pressure on companies with wasteful packaging practices. Make sure to evaluate if a company is greenwashing you with their packaging claims too,  Or shop locally to avoid packaging at all.

  • Shop mindfully- When making purchases, consider how long they are likely to last. Thousands of gifts are thrown out within a year. Look for high-quality items or gifts with a lifetime guarantee.

candle celebration champagne christmas
Avoid disposable dishes.  Instead, purchase inexpensive dishes from a second-hand store for your guests.  You’ll save an incredible amount of money and waste over the years. If you’re tempted by the “compostable” dishes, make sure to check with your local composting facilities first.  Most facilities actually cannot compost these.
  • Gift experiences that require no packaging!

  • Separate non-recyclable parts from holiday cards.  Recycle the parts you can. Donate the rest of the card to a program like St. Judes.  Or use them to send Holiday greetings the next year, in crafts, or as decoration.  There are so many absolutely beautiful Holiday cards. Make a beautiful collage decoration for a gift next year!

  • Open gifts with care to reuse gift wrap the next year

  • Compost all your food waste.  Don’t have a compost bin? Contact your local health food store or farm to see if you can add your compost to their pile.  Be mindful of your food waste too. 30%-40% of food waste is still perfectly edible.

  • Millions of pounds of unwanted gifts are thrown away each year.  Unfortunately, many stores throw away returns. Even returning unwanted gifts can contribute to waste.  When purchasing gifts, make sure you’re gifting something the recipient actually wants and needs. If you receive a gift you do not want, donate it, sell on a local group, or pass it along to someone you know will love it.

  • Wrap gifts in fabric that can be reused year-to-year.

  • Use newspaper, children’s art, or magazines to wrap.

  • Wrap gifts in reusable boxes tins or baskets.

Reduce, reuse, refuse.  As we’ve discussed above, recycling is no longer a sustainable option.  These new ‘Rs’ can help you create a more sustainable holiday. Reduce your waste as much as possible- even recyclables!  Reuse items as long as possible- repairing them as needed for continued reuse.  Refuse cheap promotional items, holiday catalogs, ‘freebies’, etc. Together we can make a big impact in reducing our waste!

assorted plastic bottles
Recycling is becoming a less and less sustainable option each day- reduce, reuse and refuse!
How to: Evaluate a Product for Ethical and Earth-Friendly Standards

How to Evaluate a Product For Ethical and Earth Friendly Standards

When Kasper Organics first stepped into the market, purchasing “organic,” “fair trade,” and “ethically made”  items wasn’t a common desire. The demand for these products is growing rapidly as more people are becoming aware of the benefits of organic cotton, and are more concerned about products with fair wage standards.  While this is an incredibly good thing for those of us looking to purchase these products, it also means a lot of frauds are popping up.

Don’t Always Trust a Label

Unfortunately, manufacturers can put just about anything they like onto a product label.  Something can be labeled as “all natural” that is entirely made from synthetic chemicals. Products can be called “eco-friendly” when they’re even more damaging for the environment than the alternative they are trying to replace.  While some excellent certifying agencies exist to help mitigate this, consumers still need to be aware that you can’t always trust what is on a label. In this day and age, a little bit of research goes a very long way to guarantee your product is safe for the Earth, and for the people involved in making it!

Greenwashing Is More Prevalent Than We Realize

The term “greenwashing” popped onto the scene in the last few years.  It’s a play on words that might make you think of brainwashing. Basically, greenwashing is when a product is marketed as “green” but it’s not green at all. Greenwashing is HUGE right now.  That commercial you saw on TV for the huge brand that’s now “eco-friendly.” Greenwash. The “green” motel you’re looking to stay at. Greenwash. That box store that now sells “more organics.”  Greenwash.

Often these companies are making tiny little changes, and that’s a step in the right direction.  Unfortunately, these changes are often not at all beneficial for the environment at all. Or, they’re such a minute change, less than 5% of their entire company, they don’t make much of a difference. Sometimes the changes actually end up meaning they make larger changes elsewhere that are no longer beneficial.  

“Greenwashing” occurs with products being labeled as ethical/fair wage/ fair trade as well.  While it’s not Greenwashing, companies are labeling products and services in a way that leads you to believe their employees are being treated fairly.  Certifying agencies exist and are doing an excellent job to ensure fair treatment and pay for people around the world.

How to Evaluate a Product For Ethical and Earth Friendly Standards

If all this misconception is happening, what’s a person to do?  Try these tips before you make your next purchase:

 

  • Decide your priorities– What are you willing to compromise on?  What are your absolute must-haves? What types of interaction are you willing to have with the company?
  • Find a trusted source– This is the easiest option.  Find a trusted source you know has done the hard work for you.  We are extremely strict on the products we sell. If you find a good source you won’t have to dig as much.  You can even reach out to them for tips on products they don’t sell.
  • Look into the certifying agency- Companies are notorious for creating their own “certifying agency.” Then they create a logo to slap on their products and say “certified X” and it looks legit.  Look into these certifications. If the only products available with this certification are from that company, you might want to look elsewhere.
  • Dig a little deeper– We’re so lucky to have the world at our fingertips.  Literally. Give yourself time to dig a little deeper. Take a look at reviews and other information you can find.  
  • Ask questions- This is one of the best ways to find out.  Call or email the company and ask questions about their practices, what percentage of their business is dedicated to these types of products, why they have not been certified by a legit certifying agency, etc.  In your research above, take the time to learn some of the top questions to ask and ways companies try to cover up what’s really going on.
  • Shop small– Smaller businesses are often much more concerned of, and willing to discuss, environmental and ethical issues with you.  Plus having a relationship with small businesses is fulfilling and wonderful! You can get to know one another throughout the years.
  • Research vocabulary- Write down some of the keywords you see in the advertising.  Really dig into those words from outside sources and determine if the company you’re thinking about shopping with is staying true to the ideals and meaning of that word.

 

By taking a stand against products that are misleading us with advertising, we send a powerful message.  Voting with our dollars is an incredibly important way to guarantee more organic and Earth-safe products make it to market.

Learn More

Check out this excellent resource, The Greenwashing Index with a step-by-step guide to identifying greenwashing, spots to view and share ads, and more http://www.greenwashingindex.com

 

Organic Soil Maintenance for organic farms

Soil Maintenance for Organic Farms

Growing organic produce, cotton, and other crops is about more than not spraying chemicals. While avoiding chemicals is important, soil maintenance is also a main focus for organic farmers. The soil is a crucial component to growing and many organic farmers are quite mindful of their soil health and care. Building healthy, strong soil can be quite an extensive process. Conventional farming techniques aren’t generally focused on soil health. It can take farmers many years to build up the fertility and quality of their soil.
Through maintaining fertile soil, farmers increase the nutrients in the soil. Healthy nutrients in the soil subsequently increase the nutrients in their food. Many people comment on the difference in flavor between a small organic farm and a large conventional farm. Soil health is a key component to healthy, beautiful, delicious crops. Organic farming practices involve slowly released nutrients into the earth. This boosts the health of microorganisms, fungi, bacteria, and protozoa that all work together to maintain soil health.
Rows of crops on farm with rich soil
Compost is often a major part of developing well-tended organic soil. Initially, many farmers use “trench composting” as a way to build up soil health. This is especially popular practice when taking over a conventional farm or beginning to farm on the new land. In trench composting, deep trenches are dug in the soil. The farmer then dumps compost into these trenches and buries it. This allows the compost to break down in the Earth which boosts beneficial organisms, micro-flora, etc. available in the soil.
Farmers will almost always maintain a compost pile as well. (tip- if you live somewhere you can’t compost, like an apartment, reach out to local farms. They’ll almost always be willing to take your compost and may even share some crops). Farms can purchase composters which help break the materials down faster in order to spread over the earth, or till into the soil.
Using “compost tea” is also a popular method for maintaining healthy soil. This is the liquid that comes off a standard compost pile. Farmers will often collect some compost and allow it to break down in a container, dilute with water and use it to water their crops. This provides a natural fertilizer and needed moisture.
Compost pile
Composting is involved in most organic farming operations
Nutrient cycling is also a main component to organic soil maintenance. Allowing plant remnants, lawn clippings, and leaves to break down on the soil helps provide nutrients to the soil. Proper and mindful watering, aeration, and pest control also allow the nutrients in the soil to cycle through naturally. By aerating the soil, water, oxygen, and nutrients are able to get into the soil and get to roots more easily. Aeration usually occurs once or twice during the farming season.
Farmers who tend to soil health also get the added benefit of more effective watering. Plants hold onto moisture better, and the soil filters out anything potentially damaging to the plants.
With simple pH test strips, farmers are able to get great information about the health and quality of their soil. There are also labs in which farmers can send samples of their soil for analysis. These labs will let farmers know percentages of minerals, bacteria, fungi, molds, nutrients, chemicals, pesticides, and more present in their soil. Farmers can actually alter the health of their soil by crop cycling, planting specific crops near one another, adding in specific organic nutrients, and by irrigation and watering with specific methods.
By developing fertile soil, crops grow stronger, pests are less likely to take hold and disease does not spread as rapidly among crops. Maintaining healthy soil is a huge benefit for organic farmers and well worth the time and effort they put into it. Try visiting an organic farm someday, dig your hands into the earth and take notice of the rich soil. The difference is obvious and beautiful.
All About Organic Cotton Certification from Kasper Organics

All About Organic Cotton Certification

We’re all familiar with the Organic logo on our food.  As the popularity of organic living increases, more and more people are looking to start using organic cotton in their homes as well.  Unlike organic foods, there are no regulations on use of the term “organic cotton.”  In fact, conventional farmers can claim they have certified organic cotton when they don’t have anything even close to organic cotton.

Will the real Organic Cotton please stand up?

Fortunately, certification boards exist for farmers to verify they are producing the real deal.  The process can take up to three years, and farms must go through a stringent verification in order to become officially certified organic.  This helps the consumer greatly, however, by allowing you to know you’re getting actual organic cotton instead of an intruder.

Certification Terms

If there are companies claiming to be growing “certified organic cotton” that aren’t actually doing so, what should consumers look for?  Keep an eye out for these certifications to know you’re getting the real thing:

  • GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) This is the most desirable certification, it ensures not only organic content but also socially and sustainably responsible processing
  • OE (Organic Exchange)
    • You’ll usually see OE 100 or OE Blended.  OE100 is 100% organic cotton but it might not be processed organically.  OE Blended contains at least 5% organic cotton.
  • OCS (Organic Content Standard)
    • This certification helps to assure organic farming practices
  • USDA Organic (United States Department of Agriculture)
    • USDA Organic certification requires that crops not be treated for the previous 3 years prior to certification with a prohibited material and that no prohibited herbicide, pesticide or fertilizer can be used. GMOs are also banned when becoming USDA certified, as well as some farming practices.  While this is the most recognizable organic label, it is extremely time intensive to become USDA certified and quite costly so smaller farms often forgo this certification.

How much organic cotton is being grown?

Cotton accounts for a significant amount of the crops grown worldwide.  It’s also the largest water-consuming crop in the world.  Organic cotton uses less water and helps to boost the local water supply and food quality of nearby farms.  Organic cotton is now grown in over a dozen countries, by over 200,000 thousand farms and over 500,000 bales are grown annually.  Even with these massive numbers, less than 1% of cotton grown worldwide is certified organic!  Organizations are working to educate cotton farmers on the benefits of growing organic cotton, as well as to expedite the process of organic certification.

In America, organic cotton is mostly grown in California, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas.  Over 80% of the organic cotton grown in the US is grown in Texas.

Who are these farmers?

Most farmers growing organic cotton have been cotton farmers for generations.  While we are increasingly losing our connections to our ancestors who farmed here in America, millions of people make their living farming worldwide and farming is still a massive part of many communities worldwide.  Farmers are often eager to switch over to organic practices once they learn the benefits such as:

  • Decreased water use
  • Healthier soil
  • Increased ability to grow other plants nearby
  • Cleaner water for their community
  • Higher pay
  • Less expense overall (GMO seeds can be up to 10 times more expensive than organic cotton seeds.)
  • Greater crop yield
  • Significantly less health risks

Plus, many farms become certified Fair Trade as well as obtaining organic certification.  This serves as a major benefit all the way from farmer to seamstress.

How do companies become certified?

The organic cotton certification process is an extremely lengthy process.  Each certifying organization has slightly different regulations. The general process is fairly similar.  It can take several years for the process to become completed.  However, as the demand for Organic cotton grows, the process will hopefully become less time intensive as more staff can work on certifying the farms.  Certification and organic practices don’t end at the farm, however.  The processing facilities, spinning, weaving, milling, etc. for conventional cotton use massive amounts of chemicals.  Organic cotton textile certifications must go from the farm to the consumer.

In order to become certified textile companies must:

  • Use non-GMO cotton seeds
  • Never use synthetic pesticides
  • Undergo certification verifying the spinning factory can process organic cotton and adhere to organic practices
  • Certify organic processes at the farms
  • Farms must have an ecosystem management plan in place
  • Apply through the accredited third-party & pass all inspections, as well as an annual inspection
  • Rotate crops
  • Farms must avoid defoliants
  • Undergo contamination and residue testing
  • Obtain all the proper scope certifications, this varies based on certifying organization but can include certificates for Farming, Ginning, Spinning, Weaving, Dyeing and Finishing, Sewing and the Retailer

The inspections and process often include a 2-3 year period where the farm is transitioning from convention cotton growth to organic.  Many of the third party certifiers work alongside farms to help ensure the process and help farmers understand the new requirements for their farming practices.  An in-depth look at all finances will take place as well to ensure that all funds are being spent on proper items.  In addition, all storage, harvesting, processing, and water facilities will be assessed and viewed in the inspection process.  

The process is extremely lengthy and involved.  In the end, it’s worth it to create a cleaner and healthier product for all involved.

How can I help?

The best way to help increase the yield of organic cotton grown is to vote with your dollar.  By buying organically grown, and processed, cotton the demand increases.  As demand increases more farms will make the switch.  If everyone switched over to organic cotton the impact would be drastic on our global food and water supply.  

 

Keep an eye here on our blog to learn more about organic and natural fibers.