Palm Oil is used in close to half the products the world consumes or buys on a daily basis, but it has an unsustainable and environmental underbelly that is devastating.
Palm oil is used in everything from cosmetics, to food, to soup and clothing. It is everywhere. The demand for these products is so high the knock-on effect is an increased demand on palm oil – but how palm oil is produced causes large – scale environmental damage impacting the entire world.
Palm oil is typically created in southeast Asia on palm oil plantations, which are created by controversial clearing practices and methods. These practice are leading to deforestation, a loss of biodiversity, killing of animals, along with habitats under-threat of extinction.
These practices and manufacturing methods are just the tip of the spear as to why it is immensely important to embrace sustainable palm oil products.
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is like any other vegetable or sunflower or olive oil. It is made using the fruit of palm trees.
Palm oil is a staple for big food. clothing and cosmetics companies, due to its versatility and cheap costs. It is found in everything from food, shampoo, bread, toothpaste, cleaning detergent, sweets, clothing, car and bio fuel, and even furniture.
Roughly 58.84 million tonnes of palm oil are produced every year from Indonesia and Malaysia, who account for 85 per cent of that production.
It is estimated that half of the world’s goods and products contain palm oil, making it one of the most wildly used materials.
The issue with Palm Oil
Palm oil, much like other agricultural commodities like soy, coffee, cocoa, and rubber, has been singled out as a major environmental damage contributor, causing untold harm to endangered ecosystems and animals habitats.
To make room for such a high demand in palm oil, plantations freely clear rainforests to expand their production. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) indicated that close to 300 football fields of forest are cleared every hour, with more than 2 million hectares cleared per year.
In Southeast Asia, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, plantations are typically found on peat bogs, which require drainage before crops can be planted. Once dry, the peat is extremely flammable, and with limited resources available to farmers, the most cost-effective way of clearing forests is burning. This process often leads to vast uncontrollable fires, leaving much of the region under a smoke – filled haze every year.
In addition to these factors, palm oil manufacturing is rife with social issues, labour exploitation, corruption, and a laundry list of other problems that make palm oil production one of the world’s most environmentally unfriendly practices.
Devastating the World’s Wildlife
The practice of burning and destroying rainforest space for the purpose of installing palm oil plantations has wide ranging impact, not least on the animals who call these areas home.
The deforestation and burning of habitats inflicts enormous environmental damage to animal homes and dramatically reduces the biodiversity of the region.
In Indonesia’s Tesso Nilo National Park, which is home to most of the regions tiger, orangutans, and elephant populations, large areas have been illegally converted into palm oil plantations.
In just under 16 years, palm oil production has halved the population of wild Bornean Orangutan’s.
Globally, a total of 193 critically endangered, threatened, and vulnerable animal species have been threatened by palm oil production.
Palm Oil is a major cause of forest destruction
As with the enormous impact on animal welfare, palm oil production has also been a disaster for the world’s forests.
With the vast majority of palm oil grown in Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which are tropical countries with large areas of rainforest, companies are putting these diverse ecosystems at risk in their pursuit of increased palm oil production.
Close to 24 million hectares of rainforest was destroyed in Indonesia between 1990 and 2015, which is roughly the same size of the entire United Kingdom.
That large scale deforestation is not only impacting the native animal and human populations, but causing irreversible environmental and social damage that will be felt for generations to come.
The Hope for Sustainable Practices
In 2004, the wider palm oil industry came together to establish the Roundtable on sustainable palm oil (RSPO) to help develop sustainable palm oil practices and manufacturing techniques that do not harm people or the environment.
The RSPO was founded to create a common set of rules and standards the palm oil industry will adhere to. The RSPO certification standards are finalised through a consensus amongst the key stakeholders, which consists of eight core principles.
Commitment to transparency, compliance with applicable laws and regulations, commitment to long-term economic and financial viability, use of appropriate best practices by growers and millers, environmental responsibility and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity. Responsible consideration of employees, and of individuals and communities affected by growers and mills, responsible development of new plantings, and commitment to continuous improvement in key areas of activity.
The current polices the RSPO members and RSPO certified companies enforce require farmers to stop burning land to clear it for planting, to asses each plot of land for environmental impact from animal, social, human, and environmental, and to obtain official permission from local communities to start farming – known as the Free, Prior and Informed Consent.
By sticking to these rules and regulations, palm oil producers are helping to create sustainable palm oil alternatives that help the environment.
Should Consumers Boycott Brands using Palm Oil
Even with the RSPO standards and guidelines, most growers, farmers and companies do not stick to the rules, and often never face any consequences.
Unfortunately, the palm oil industry, while willing to embrace new, sustainably – focused practices, are unable to police themselves to make meaningful changes to their harmful processes.
With that in mind, customers are sometimes encouraged to boycott products or companies who still use palm oils who maintain traditional practices. By boycotting, the suggestion is that it sends a message to companies and governments to act, try to improve their production methods, and to fall more in line with the sustainable and environmentally – focused way of thinking.
With the toll standard palm oil is having on the world, sustainable palm oil is an important development. If the appropriate rules and regulations are enforced and maintained, which help decrease the loss of habitats, endangered species, and precious rainforest land, sustainable palm oil can be manufactured and replace the current harmful alternatives.