We all love sweet things. But have you ever wondered what makes everything sweet? You guessed it! Sugar. Sugar is a naturally occurring compound that interacts to make things tasty and sweet.

Sugar forms an essential element in the culinary industry as it is used to make pastries and your favourite dessert.  The sweet taste of sugar leaves us craving for more.

What is Sugar?

Sugar , also referred to as sucrose , is a carbohydrate that is mainly formed through the interaction of fructose and glucose. The naturally occurring carbohydrate is also commonly known as table sugar or cane sugar.

Where Does sugar Come From?

Sucrose is a naturally occurring monosaccharide carbohydrate that is found in plants.  However, it must be chemically extracted and refined to remove impurities. Beets and sugar cane make the most common plants are used to provided raw sugar. The plants are first crushed to remove the liquid sucrose. The liquid is then concentrated in a syrup which is then crystalized to make the sugar particles.

Chemical structure of sucrose
Chemical structure of sucrose

It is not known who was the first individual to synthesize sugar from but it is postulated that it was first processed in Asia. Initially, sugar was a rare element and it would fetch high prices for both merchants and growers. Over the centuries, this has not entirely changed but sugar has become common.

Sugar Facts

Sugar is made from the sugar cane plant.Added sugar forms an essential element of every diet. Not only does it provide taste but it is also a very vital source of energy. The animal body quickly metabolises sugar to provide a quick source of energy. Ever heard of sugar rush?

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that a person should not consume more than 25 grams (0.9 ounces) and 38 grams (1.34 ounces) for women and men, respectively. Children , on the other hand, are limited to a maximum of 25 grams (0.9 ounces) of sugar consumption a day.

The World Health Organisation also recommends that an adult should not rely to get more than 15 percent of the total calories from refined sugar.  Note that the healthiest source of sugar should come from natural products such as fruits, honey , syrups and more.

In the United States, an average person consumes about 57 pounds (26 kilograms) of added sugar per year. However, the consumption is always expected to exceed as sugar causes more cravings.  Due to this, Americans are expected to consume over 11 million metric tons of sugar by the year 2020!

Why is Table Sugar Bad For the Environment

Over 170 metric tonnes of sugar are consumed and produced globally. The total consumption is expected to increase due to the domestic and commercial uses of sugar. Majority of the sugar is extracted from sugar cane.

Cut sugar cane and juice
Cut sugar cane and juice

Due to the readily available demand for sugar , there are millions of acres dedicated to growing sugar cane. These farms ensure that there is a constant supply of the much needed sweetener. Also, sugar cane farming has also been found to be cheaper than chemically producing sweeteners in the lab.

Sugar from cane is also much preferred as soft drink companies wanted to reduce the levels of diabetes caused by corn starch sweeteners.

You must be wondering , how such a sweet and important thing is bad for the environment. Here are a ways in which sugar consumption is bad for the environment;

  • Pollution

To meet the demands of the readily available sugar market, millions of acres have been dedicated to produce can all year around. Sugar cane growing is  an intensive process that requires the use of fertilisers and pesticides. The use of these chemicals is detrimental to the environment as it not only causes degradation but also pollute water.

One such dire case has been witnessed in Florida for the last decade. Since the inception of sugar farms in the Lake Okeechobee everglades, there has been a tremendous change in the surrounding environment. According to a report presented in Netflix’s Rotten series , the degradation begun as far back in the 90s due to the extensive use of fertilizers rich in harmful phosphorus.

Over the years , residents of the area have witnessed invasion of algae, death of plant and fish species and the increase of the red tide. 

Red tide florida 2019
Red tide florida 2019

The destruction of the Everglades by the sugar farmers has caused an outcry for the rejuvenation of the previously thriving ecosystem.  The Friends of the Everglades have been championing for change and conservation of Lake Okeechobee and the surrounding everglades.

Green slime on lake Okeechobee
Green slime on lake Okeechobee

Harvesting of sugar cane also involves the burning of the plant to remove the dry leaves and other unwanted plant matter. Burning such large tracts of vegetation adds significantly to carbon emissions. This also kills microorganisms found in the topsoil, which will result to the farmers using more fertilizers to enrich the soil in the next season.

Burning of sugarcane fields in preparation for harvesting
Burning of sugarcane fields in preparation for harvesting

Sugar processing factories also require extreme temperatures to turn the sugar cane extract to syrup. In light of climate change , using more energy to produce sugar is not sustainable. Furthermore, the chemicals such as Sulfur Dioxide, Phosphoric Acid, Phosphoric Acid and Polyacrylamides , may leak into the environment. These chemicals are highly toxic to animals, humans and plants.

Sugar cane factory,Florida
Sugar cane factory,Florida

These factories also requires vast amounts of water to wash and process the sugar. The contaminated water is also likely dumped into the environment. Notwithstanding, growing cane requires as much water that has even led to drying of Lake Okeechobee and surrounding marsh areas.

Sugar packing , which is mainly  made of paper and plastic, is also being dumped  to add to the already choked environment.

Plastic from sugar and its products
Plastic from sugar and its products

The next time you bite into that sugar dusted donut , think about the environmental damage caused not only in Florida but many other sugar growing areas around the world.

We only have one earth, and we have not yet perfected the journey to mars , let’s save it when we can!.