The first place to look for zero waste chocolate locally is probably your nearest bulk aisle. In mine, you can find semi-sweet chocolate chips, dark chocolate almonds, dark chocolate-covered coconut chews (HEAVEN), peanut butter cups, and lots more. Bring a jar or bag and fill up on a few to see what you like best. (Um, it's all in the name of sustainability research, guys).
Now, I'm an occasional purchaser of dark chocolate almonds and an even more occasional purchaser of dark chocolate-covered coconut chews (because I have proven I can't be trusted around them). But what I prefer to keep around the house are plain, normal, slightly boring bars of super dark chocolate. And those don't come in bulk, sans packaging.
Luckily for me, I recently did some extensive research on chocolate packaging to finally settle which non-bulk chocolates might be the best zero waste option. Upshot: I've identified a few types of packaging to look for and a few to avoid, plus now I have tons of chocolate on hand for snacking. FUN.
What to look for:
Recyclable wrappers. Paper or foil-packaged bars can have their wrappers recycled. The brands pictured directly above - from left to right, Lindt, Ghiradelli, Green & Black's, and Chocolove - all come wrapped in a paper outer layer and a foil inner layer. Both layers can be recycled, but take care not to tear the foil too much, as small pieces that come loose from the main portion aren't likely to actually get recycled once they make it to the recycling facility. Bonus: the gold foil layer lends the bar quite the "Golden Ticket" look.
Compostable wrappers. Barring bulk chocolate, another might be to look for a bar in a compostable wrapper, typically a bar that's wrapped solely in paper. This matcha crisp bar in a compostable wrapper looks delicious.
Fancy individual chocolates. Sometimes I like to visit the fancy chocolate shop in my neighborhood, where I pick out a few dark chocolate truffle-y turtle-y things and ask for them either on a plate or in my own container. A package-free, yet expensive and slightly inconvenient option, one I don't turn to as often as I probably should.
Make your own. Take those semi-sweet chocolate chips from the bulk aisle, melt them slowly in a double boiler, throw in peanut butter or dried fruit or nuts, and enjoy a package-free treat that's less sad-feeling than snacking on the original chocolate chips.
What to avoid:
Foil-backed paper wrappers. I've loved supporting Endangered Species chocolate - it's based in my hometown of Indianapolis and gives a percentage of its profits to, well, endangered species work. Also, their bars with dried fruit are delicious. But, after a closer inspection, I don't think the packaging is actually recyclable. The inner paper liner is backed with foil (see the picture to the left, above). At least in the recycling system where I live, mixed materials like this (metal + paper) can't be separated by the machines and therefore get trashed - for example, coffee cups, which are paper lined with plastic, aren't recyclable. Then again, is this just metallicized paper that IS recyclable? I'm not sure, and the Internet couldn't tell me. If you know the answer, I'd love to hear.
Plastic wrappers. Sometimes, plastic wrappers are obvious: Hershey's, Snickers, and Butterfingers all wear their plastic wrappers proudly on the outsides of their packaging. Sometimes, though, plastic is lurking beneath innocent-looking paper wrappers, as is the case with the bar of Equal Exchange in the photo at right. The paper on the outside is recyclable, but the plastic liner inside isn't.
A hard thing about this calculation is that sometimes, to give up a bad thing (Equal Exchange plastic wrappers), you also give up a good (fair trade). Is a foil-wrapped bar made by Lindt, surely not with fair trade chocolate, really any better than a fair trade plastic-wrapped bar by Equal Exchange?
As with everything, zero waste is not the only thing at stake here. So I say: do a little research. Pick the chocolate that tastes the best in the packaging you can live with and the ethical code you stand behind. I'll probably be avoiding Equal Exchange - I just can't countenance the plastic - but continuing to eat Endangered Species chocolate and hoping for the best when I stick that foil-backed paper in the recycling bin.
Zero waste chocolate: what's your strategy? Favorite brands that hit the ethical / zero waste sweet spot?