palm oil harvest
Photo Credit: WWF

Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is derived from the mesocarp of the fruit of the oil palms and it’s in just about everything. Not only is it edible and used in a lot of foods, but it’s also used in cooking oil, margarine, shampoos, cosmetics, waxes you name it! Over 50 tons of palm oils is consumed each year.

Why Is Palm Oil So Popular?

Palm oil is quickly replacing other types of vegetable and animal oils because it’s so versatile. This one type of oil can be separated out into several other distinct types of oils to be used for specific products, which makes it more useful and profitable to manufactures than one oil that can only be used for one thing.

It’s also a highly productive oil. It yields more than other vegetable oils, and for a lower cost, which is mostly due to the low labor costs in the regions where it’s grown. It also uses less fertilizer and pesticides to grow.

Demand for palm oil has increased dramatically over the past decade. In 2000 it was the most produced vegetable oil accounting for 40% of all oils traded internationally. By 2006, that number rose to 65%. This demand is expected to double again in the next 30 years.

palm oil plantation
Photo Credit: Rainforest Rescue

In order for supply to keep up with this demand, palm oil plantations are growing at a huge rate in West Africa and Asia, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Why Is Palm Oil Bad For The Environment?

Since palm oil plantations only grow in the tropics and because the demand is so high, large areas are being cleared away to make way for these plantations. The majority of oil palm plantations are grown on tropical islands in Indonesia and Malaysia (85%). These islands use to be home to some of the most biodiverse tropical forests found on Earth with delicate ecosystems and high levels of biodiversity that are critical habitats for endanger species; but these forests are being destroyed to make way for these plantations, and often illegally.

The expansion of monoculture oil palm plantations are endangering the lives of tigers, elephants, monkeys, rhinos, forest-dwelling people, and you!

palm oil impact
Photo Credit: BOS Foundation

The large-scale conversion of these diverse tropical forests to monoculture oil palm plantations are having a devastating impact on a large number of plants and species in these areas, not to mention soil erosion, and air pollution which contributes to climate change.

Draining and destroying peat forests is especially horrible for the climate, as these “carbon sinks” store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem in the world.

The unique and diverse ecosystems found in these forests are home to several species that can’t live anywhere else. By taking away their home, their numbers are quickly dwindling, landing them on the endangered species list.

The natives to these lands are not being respected and often become employees for the palm plantations. Their homes and communities are being bulldozed and taken away and then they are being forced to work for the corporations that destroyed them.

Devastating Facts About Palm Oil

These are just some of the facts available on OneGreenPlanet.org, but are so shocking that I think they need to be shared:

  • Up to 300 football fields of forest are cleared every HOUR to make room for palm plantations.
  • The orangutan population has decreased by 50% as the result of habitat loss from forest clearing for palm plantations. There are only 6,300 Sumatran orangutans left. It is estimated that 1,000 orangutans are killed a year.
  • Clearing one hectare (about two square acres) of peat forest can release 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Indonesia has currently cleared around ten million hectares of tropical peat forest
  • Palm oil ranks among the U.S. Department of Labor’s top 4 worst industries for forced and child labor.

What Can You Do?

By buying products that contain palm oil, you are unknowingly and unwillingly (or not so much now after reading this) adding to and participating in these crimes against endangers species, the environment, and the people of these countries.

palm oil harvest
Photo Credit: WWF.org

First let’s be clear that it is possible to create palm oil sustainably and with methods that don’t include deforestation and the deaths of humans and animals. Palm oil itself is not the problem. The problem is our veracious demand for this product and the impact that demand is having on our planet in order to try to sustain it.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has set guidelines for transparency, labor laws, and environmental standards. The problem is enforcing these guidelines as 65% of the palm grower corporations that are part of the Roundtable aren’t adhering to these guidelines.

When money talks, corporations listen. If enough consumers commit to stop using palm oil, or at the lease to reduce their consumption, the corporations will have more incentives to abide by these guidelines and to stop the deforestation and killing of endangered species and native people of these countries.

Only buy palm oil products from companies that are certified by the RSPO and are using sustainable palm oiland have the RSPO trademark.

RSPO certified distributor list

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