Fairtrade Fortnight 2020: The Way to Sustainable Chocoholism

Fairtrade Fortnight 2020: The Way to Sustainable Chocoholism

Have you ever wondered what our life would be like without chocolate? It is hard to imagine such a scenario when you consider how many of today’s products either consist of or contain the beloved food. For Ireland, this would mean an especially great deal. After all, according to Fairtrade figures, Irish people are the third-largest chocolate consumers in the World. Only surpassed by Austria and Switzerland, the average person in Ireland ate about 17 pounds of chocolate in 2017.


While chocolate is generally associated with feeling good, there is a side to it that speaks a different truth. The difficulties that many cocoa farmers have to face to produce our chocolate have been repeatedly called out over the last few decades. Hazardous working conditions, exploitation and oppression, a lack of health care and even child labour define the daily lives of thousands of workers and their families. Even though many people are aware of the problem, it often seems difficult to actually do something about it as an individual.


Fairtrade Fortnight, a campaign organised by the Fairtrade Foundation, aims to raise awareness of the conditions in which many people in developing countries work to produce our food. For two weeks each year, hundreds of individuals, companies, and groups across Ireland come together to tell others about farmers’ and workers’ stories. In doing so, they want to demonstrate the positive impact of Fairtrade and hope to encourage people to buy more goods made to Fairtrade standards. This year’s Fairtrade Fortnight’s focus is on – as you might have guessed – chocolate. Particular attention will be paid to the women farmers who supply companies with cocoa, seeing that women often make only little profit from the food they grow compared to men. 


The campaign takes place from February 24th to March 8th and features a large number of guest speakers, such as Arjen Boekhold and Nicola Matthews from the Netherlands. Their chocolate company Tony’s Chocolonely pursues the mission to make chocolate completely slave-free and create fair conditions for all cocoa farmers. At the event’s opening night in Dublin, Boekhold spoke amongst other things about inequality in the chocolate industry, pointing out the power of the few multinational companies. “How can we talk about a fair economy or a free economy where you can negotiate prices? We have, one the one hand, two and a half million farmers and they have to negotiate with only two companies” Boekhold explained. The chocolate bar also has a unique design. Divided into parts of different sizes rather than even squares, the composition is meant to reflect the inequality between those who produce the chocolate and those who eventually profit from it. Boekhold stated his belief in Fairtrade saying, “I think Fairtrade is one of the few initiatives which really try to strengthen the position of farmers and make cooperatives work […] At this moment, around 6 to 7% of all cocoa worldwide is sold under Fairtrade terms. So that is a minority. But you see an impact, you see change.”


Allison Roberts, founder of the chocolate company Exploding Tree and one of the three bean-to-bar chocolate producers in Ireland, is a speaker at Fairtrade Fortnight as well. Located in Cork, her company handcrafts chocolate bars with 100% Fairtrade cocoa and coconut sugar bought directly from farming cooperatives like Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana. Running only a small company, Roberts says she feels freer to experiment with her chocolate and likes to create new flavours that don’t necessarily speak to the mainstream: Salt & Seaweed, Goats’ Milk, Dark Orange or 100% Cocoa are just some of them. And did you know that her company produces the only artisan milk chocolate bar made with Irish milk?  


It’s encouraging to see that progress has already been made. According to Fairtrade International, cocoa was the fastest-growing Fairtrade product category in 2017 with revenue rising by 57% in volume, and growth still continuing in 2018. But what is it that makes Fairtrade products so special? Why are they different from others and how does the label work?  


Fairtrade can be described as a trading partnership with the objective to promote greater justice in international trade. It serves as a certification scheme that ensures socially and economically fair production standards for goods from developing countries, such as chocolate, coffee, tea, cotton, fruits, sugar and also gold. Since these products are high in demand and consumed all around the world, a key mission is to make their production as sustainable as possible. International fair trade networks like Fairtrade International or World Fair Trade Organization have defined standards regarding workers’ rights, fair labour practices and environmental responsibility that organisations are required to follow in order to be labelled ‘Fairtrade’. 


First of all, farmers and workers must be paid a minimum price for their products, which guarantees them a stable income. FLOCERT, the audit and certification body for Fairtrade standards, regularly checks that this is implemented. In such a way, workers are given a safety net as they are protected from exploitation and can use income to save money for the future. Fairtrade farmers and workers also receive the Fairtrade Premium, an additional sum of money that goes to a communal fund of their choice. This fund helps workers improve their social, economic or environmental conditions through investment in things like better infrastructure, their children’s education or drinking water supplies. Another important aspect of Fairtrade is sustainable production, which involves farms and plantations avoiding pesticides and fungicides since these often cause great damage to people, wildlife and natural resources. If it’s impossible to circumvent toxicants, their usage has to be reduced to a minimum and resources like soil and water need to be kept clean. Additionally, all employees who might get in contact with the substances are required to wear protective clothing. But that’s not everything that Fairtrade is invested in. Other important issues that are being dealt with include child labour, climate change and gender inequality.


All in all, buying Fairtrade chocolate may not be the solution to every problem in the trading industry but it’s a good place to start and it proves that it’s not hard to make a positive impact, even if it’s small. As one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, Ireland has the chance to go ahead and make sure that Fairtrade products will be even more widespread and consumed in the future.



Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash



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In October 2016, bulldozers came into the refugee camp known as the Calais Jungle and tore apart the shelters that thousands of migrants had made their homes. Although it has been more than three years since the official eviction, it’s estimated that there are still almost 1,500 migrants living in the forests near Calais and Dunkirk, with around 200 of those being unaccompanied minors.

Asylum Seekers host Feminist Conference for International Women’s Day

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A small step towards a better tomorrow

A small step towards a better tomorrow

Plastic recycling only makes a small dent in the amount of plastic pollution generated every year. According to Plastic Pollution Organization, 8 million metric tonnes of plastic ends up in our ocean each year. By 2025 the annual ocean pollution of plastic is estimated to be twice what it is now. Currently, 91 percent of plastic is not recycled. As we struggle to recycle some local initiatives have found new uses for old plastic.

Where and how are they experimenting with plastic?
Noord district in Amsterdam, was once an industrial area, which has been repaired and restored as a cultural and art centre of the city. The area has started a project by Wasted an initiative of Cities Foundation, where bags of trash provide residents with necessary coupons for local shops.

What are these coupons/green coins and how do they work?
For people who use a special trash bag, their waste is collected one week and the week after they are rewarded with a pack full of green coins. Through these green coins they get discounts on Yoga classes, beer half price, some free chocolates and a buy one get one free deal on coffee.

What is the impact?
Although a small step, the initiative is having an impact. Since 2015, Wasted has collected more than 16.5 tonnes of plastic rubbish. This project has not only changed the plastic consumption habit of people who signed for this initiative but has also decreased the production of plastic waste.


Photo by Gary Chan on Unsplash


Who wants to be an award winner?

Who wants to be an award winner?

Organisations who have excellence in waste management and recycling practices, have the opportunity to apply for the 2018 Pakman Award. The prize is a national award, recognising changes businesses have made that benefit the environment.

The Pakman Award is free to enter and there are fifteen different categories. The winners from each category are then nominated for the overall award. A final winner will be announced in the Intercontinental Hotel October 25th, 2018.

All the entries for the Pakman Award are submitted using the online procedure. The deadline for receipt of completed application is midnight August 31st, 2018. The prize covers projects that were completed between January 2017 to June 2018.

To learn more about the competition or to apply visit pakman.ie


Top photo: Photo by Patricia Valério on Unsplash

The secret life of the plastic bag

The secret life of the plastic bag

Plastic bags are everywhere. They carry our shopping, are light, durable and relatively inexpensive. Worldwide we use between 500 million to a 1 trillion tonnes each year. But have you ever wondered what happens to them before they reach you or after you have thrown them away?

This is the secret life of a plastic bag.

Firstly, a machine called extruder is used to melt polyethylene, the chemical structure that forms most plastics, at 260 °C.  The film is then pushed out and allowed cool before being cut into size and placed on a spindle.  Next a knife is heated to cut the film and seal it into the shape of a bag. Following this, more heat is applied to cut handles out and logos are added. Then it makes its way into a shop, where you can pick it up and use it.

When you’re done with that plastic bag what do you do with it? Reuse it? Dump it?

Scientists estimate that since the 1950s only 9 percent of plastic has been recycled. Just 12 percent has been incinerated, while 79 percent of plastic since the 1950s has been thrown into landfill or becomes litter.

Unfortunately, the most common type of plastic bag is not recyclable. Once they make it to a landfill, the majority of bags just sit there as they are not biodegradable.  Plastic bags are very slowly broken down by sunlight, taking anything from 400 to 1000 years. They disintegrate into small pieces called “microplastics”. Both forms of plastic are known to blow away and often end up in the open environment, polluting rivers, seas and woodlands, where they cause damage to wildlife and their natural habitats.

Alternatively, the bags are completely eradicated by burning in an in incinerator. Sweden only sends 1 percent of its waste to landfill, preferring to channel the steam created from incinerating waste into producing electricity. While this method is generally seen as preferable to landfill, incinerating plastics causes an increase in the emission of Co2 into the atmosphere, which contributes to the greenhouse effect that is destroying the ozone layer. As well as this, the slow burning of plastic bags by individuals’ en masse can lead to the release of noxious chemicals like sulfuric dioxide, which cause breathing difficulties for anyone too close by.

So next time you’re heading to the shop, make sure to bring a reusable bag instead of buying a single use plastic one!

The Secret Life of Your Mobile Phone – How is it recycled?

The Secret Life of Your Mobile Phone – How is it recycled?

After buying that new phone, what did you do with your old one? Did you pass it on to another buyer or charity? Or did you recycle it as electronic waste?

This is the secret life of your phone after it is recycled.

The need to recycle mobile phones is two-fold. First, phones that end up in landfills create an environmental issue because of toxic chemicals that could potentially leach into groundwater systems and affect local ecosystems. Second, as each phone contains rare and precious metals, discarding them directly is a huge waste of resources.

Up to 80 percent of a mobile phone can be recycled and reused. First, batteries are taken out and sent through a different recycling process than your mobile phone. Because they contain toxic materials such as nickel, cadmium and lithium, special precautions are made to prevent environmental contamination. Afterwards, your phone is shredded, heated and several measures are used to recover and re-use various parts. For example, separate metals recovery is where valuable metals are extracted from mobile parts. This includes gold, silver and platinum to name a few.

Plastic recovery reformulates and remoulds outer body plastic to be reused for other purposes. Other useful parts, such as battery connectors, PCBs (printed circuit boards), ICs (integrated circuits), lenses, microphones and screws, can also be re-purposed through recycling.

In Europe, the recycling of mobile phones is coordinated according to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, established to promote re-use, recycling and other forms of recovery of electric waste in order to improve environmental performance. The Basel Convention was also signed by 186 parties worldwide to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes. These are all measures taken to promote the recycling of mobile phones.

So next time you buy a new phone, remember to recycle your old one!


To read about the life of your phone before you buy it, click here. 


Photo by Adrian Clark via Flickr.

Remembering past refugees

Remembering past refugees

Ireland’s Famine is remembered in Cork this year as Skibbereen hosts the exhibition Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger, for three months. The exhibition is one of the largest famine related collections of art in the world and will be on display from today in Uilinn West Cork Arts Centre.

“Everyone is welcome to visit the poignant and important exhibition which is particularly significant for younger age groups to learn about their history,” said Anne Davoren, director of the Uilinn Arts Centre.

The Irish famine is a source of great sadness in Irish history as over 1 million people died from starvation or sickness such as typhoid and fever. However, it is also a primary reason why we have connections around the world as we emigrated, mainly to America, on what were called “coffin ships.”

The exhibition comes at an interesting time in world politics, as we grapple with the consequences of a worldwide refugee crisis. The exhibition will display the despair and hopelessness that suffocated the air during the time of the potato famine, which hopefully will instil empathy for those who are currently travelling dangerously across seas in search of a new life like we did.


Photo ‘Famine funeral’, courtesy of Art and the Great Hunger’.