The Hidden Environmental Cost of Added Sugars

The Hidden Environmental Cost of Added Sugars

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The environmental impression of the teaspoon of sugar in your morning espresso pales subsequent to the impression of the coffee itself and even the electricity required to brew it. But it’s not only a teaspoon of sugar. Americans eat extra sugar than another nation on the earth. At about 152 pounds per 12 months, that’s greater than twice the average amongst industrialized nations. And we don’t even understand it, because of processed meals. There’s sugar in every little thing you purchase, from sandwich bread to protein bars, and apart from the well being impression, the environmental impression of all these sweeteners might go away a bitter style in your mouth. What is the environmental footprint of your candy tooth?

Cane Sugar

Sugar is the most-grown crop on the earth, however plenty of it goes to creating biofuels and bioplastics as a substitute of sweetening meals. The impacts of sugar cultivation range by location, however producing 1 kilogram (about 2.2 kilos) of refined sugar requires on common 1,782 liters of water (that’s greater than 470 gallons). In locations the place crop residues are nonetheless burned, a ton of sugar produces round 241 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent. Sugarcane monocropping requires important chemical inputs that contribute to water air pollution. Cultivation of sugar can also be labor-intensive; sugar plantations from Central America to Southeast Asia are accused of labor violations and human trafficking.

An worldwide consortium known as Bonsucro certifies sustainable sugarcane for firms however doesn’t present a consumer-facing label. Organically grown sugar reduces carbon emissions and, via soil-enhancing farming strategies, improves carbon sequestration. But most USDA Organic certified sugar is grown in nations with poor labor practices. Fairtrade licensed merchandise could also be a better option, since that label has requirements for each labor and sustainability.

Sugar Beets

Sugar beets share lots of the similar points as cane sugar, however beets are much less water-intensive. On common, 1 kg of sugar from beets requires 920 liters of water. Since the Nineteen Nineties, many of the sugar produced within the U.S. has come from Roundup Ready GMO beets and is utilized in processed meals. Although many customers mistrust GMO meals crops, the trade-off is that these beets can develop with fewer chemical inputs. However, by definition, GMO crops can not meet natural requirements. One Dutch study discovered that domestically grown sugar beets had 1 / 4 the local weather impression of sugar imported from India, used half as a lot land, and lower erosion by almost two-thirds. The info out there within the U.S. is less encouraging: Beet processing services are discovered among the many nation’s prime 20 polluters alongside oil refineries, mining corporations, and chemical producers.

white bread sandwich of sugar cubes and a beverage bottle filled with sugar
There’s sugar in all the packaged, processed meals you purchase, however figuring out the supply of that sugar is sort of unattainable.

Corn Syrup

Nearly a 3rd of America’s cropland is devoted to corn, a crop that makes use of extra chemical inputs and leads to extra erosion and water air pollution than another. About half of it goes to animal feed, so if you happen to’re seeking to cut back environmental impression, cutting down on meat and dairy will go additional than avoiding corn syrups.

But the 7% of America’s corn transformed to sweeteners nonetheless leaves a giant footprint. Producing 1 kg of corn syrup takes much more water than an equal quantity of cane sugar. And like beets, almost all corn grown within the U.S. is genetically modified. (The estimated carbon footprint of corn syrup, one-third kg carbon equivalent per kg, is so low in comparison with sugar that it in all probability displays the totally different parameters of the research greater than any distinction between crops; one other research concluded corn syrup had the highest greenhouse gas emissions amongst Australian cane, U.Ok. beets, and American corn.)

Cut It Out

There isn’t any clear winner amongst these sweeteners, however cane sugar, beet sugar, and corn syrup are only the start. There are at the least 61 different names for sugar listed on meals labels, and most merchandise include a number of varieties of sugar. You would possibly strive baking with healthier sweeteners and changing the sugar in your tea with honey. And making some extent of studying labels will let you know two issues: how a lot and what sort of sugar is within the meals you eat.

But in terms of packaged merchandise, figuring out the supply of these sugars is nearly impossible. And the choices for selecting your individual added sugars are restricted. It will probably be simpler and more healthy to chop your carbon footprint by changing excessive sugar meals with healthier alternatives. That means searching for merchandise with the bottom quantity of added sugar, no matter sort. And each time attainable, consuming recent, entire meals as a substitute of packaged, processed meals merchandise. You’re making an attempt to try this anyway, proper?

Feature picture courtesy of Haley Owens, Unsplash