Have you heard that palm oil deforestation is one of the biggest threats to the environment as it results in greenhouse gas emissions?
Did you know that eating healthy, whole foods not only benefits your health, but helps save the rainforest?
Are you aware that swapping out a few of your skincare or hair products could help save the lives of endangered species?
You might be asking, “How is that possible?” or “What is in those products that has such a drastic effect on nature?”
The answer is: Palm Oil.
What exaclty are palm oils?
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that is derived from oil palms. It has two different types: crude and palm kernel oil. Crude palm oil comes from the squeezing of the fleshy fruit of the oil palms, while the kernel oil comes from crushing the kernel that is located in the middle of the fruit.
So, what is palm oil in?
Products with palm oil are everywhere. It can be found in almost all processed foods, hair care products, cosmetics, and sodas.
A few examples of foods containing palm oil include:
- Nut Butters
- Bagel Bites
- Girl Scout Cookies
- Dr. Pepper
- Heinz Ketchup
- PAM spray
A few examples of other products containing palm oil include:
- Laundry detergent
- Shower gel
- Shaving gel
Why does the use of Palm Oil matter?
Because palm oil is the cheapest of all vegetable oils, it is the most widely used. It is inexpensive because it needs less than half of the land required to grow other vegetable oil plants, such as sunflowers or soybeans for their oil. Unfortunately, the popularity of palm oil does not bode well for the rainforest.
Oil palms thrive in the warm, humid climate of the tropics, the same climate as the rainforest, and this overlap is creating a worldwide crisis. In response to consumer demand, many native rainforests are being bulldozed down to make room for new fields to mass produce oil palms. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, “Around 90% of the world’s oil palm trees are grown on a few islands in Malaysia and Indonesia – islands with the most biodiverse tropical forests found on Earth.” In addition to deforestation, palm oil contributes to many other environmental problems our world is facing today.
Marchan, Gabrielle. “Impact of Palm Oil Deforestation.” 2020.
Environmental Impacts of Palm Oil:
1. Air Pollution
In order to make room to grow oil palms, native trees in tropical areas are cut down, leaving fewer trees to clean the air, as trees naturally release oxygen into the air for humans and other species to breathe. With less trees, there is less O2, and therefore an increase in air pollution as fresh oxygen is not being produced. Not to mention, trees absorb pollutants themselves. By eliminating rainforest trees, there is a double whammy air pollution impact- less trees to absorb the pollutants and less O2 in the atmosphere.
To make matters worse, oil palm plantations produce unusually high levels of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. At the ground level, these VOCs can not only cause breathing problems for humans but also can damage plants.
2. Soil erosion
Soil erosion is the process of removing valuable topsoil which is the most productive part of the soil profile for agricultural purposes. Soil erosion takes place when natural rainforest trees are cleared so that oil palms can be planted. Not only is fertile land lost, but often the degraded lands cannot hold onto water, which causes an increase in flooding.
3. Climate Change
Climate change is the process of causing large shifts in weather patterns as a result of global warming due to greenhouse gases. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, rainforests hold about 45% of the world’s carbon. As the rainforests are cleared, they release massive amounts of CO2 into the air, contributing to global warming and thus climate change.
4. Loss of biodiversity
As rainforests are cleared away, the habitats of many different species are destroyed. This causes stress to animals, and because of palm oil deforestation, many species are on the verge of extinction as their habitat is shrinking. Species experiencing the greatest effects of rainforest deforestation are:
Orangutans are now labeled as crucially endangered due to the fact that in the last century, their numbers have declined rapidly, and less than half of the population of wild orangutans remain. Scientists believe that these creatures have less than 10 years left to live unless change is made and palm oil deforestation is stopped, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.
- Asian Rhinos
All three asian rhino species have been pushed to the brink of extinction by palm oil deforestation. These species include: the Greater One-Horned, Javan, and Sumantran rhinos. WWF claims that there are about 4,000 Greater One-Horned rhinos remaining in the wild. However, Javan and Sumantan rhinos have felt the effects of deforestation even greater, as there are less than 100 of each species remaining.
Palm oil deforestation is the main factor for the loss of the Sumantran and Pygmy elephants as the heards become homeless. In addition to the stressor of habitat loss, elephants are also being poached by palm oil plantation workers for their tusks. As stated by the WWF, there are less than 3,000 Sumantran elephants remaining in the wild and less than 1,500 Pygmy elephants remaining.
According to the World Wildlife Foundation, there are now fewer than 400 Sumantran tigers left in the world. This is due to palm oil deforestation taking the habitats of these magnificent creatures as well as the illegal poaching of tigers.
Although the numbers of these species are low, there is still hope in saving them. If we can make an effort to stop palm oil deforestation and thus save the habitats of these animals, there is still hope in resorting their numbers. Palm Oil deforestation plays a major role in climate change, pollution, and the loss of biodiversity. Unless something is done to stop deforestation of the tropical rainforests, many species will go extinct and climate change will continue to occur on a grand scale. However, there are many different ways you can help stop this crisis.
Marchan, Gabrielle. “5 Tips for How You Can Help.” 2020.
Five Tips for How You Can Help Stop Palm Oil Deforestation:
1. Look for RSPO labeled items
The RSPO stands for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. This organization was established in 2004 to promote the production of sustainable palm oil. Items labeled with the RSPO stamp use sustainable palm oil, or palm oil that has not required forests to be cut down. Additionally, the Rainforest Alliance also has a certification label on packaged foods. This label certifies that the forest was not harmed in creating the product, as the main goal of the certification is to have farmers and/or companies working together to create a world where people and nature thrive in harmony.
2. Try and avoid labels that include palm oil
If you cannot find RSPO or Rainforest Alliance labeled items, try and avoid labels that contain palm oil! This may be easier said than done, as palm oil can be on packages in many different names. Some alternative names include:
Elaeis guineensis, Etyl palmitate, Glyceryl, Hydrogenated palm glycerides, Octyl palmitate, Palm fruit oil, Palm kernel, Palm kernel oil, Palm stearine, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmitic acid, Palmitoyl oxostearamide, Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3, Palmityl alcohol, Palmolein, Sodium kernelate, Sodium laureth sulfate, Sodium lauryl lactylate/sulphate, Sodium lauryl sulfate, Sodium palm kernelate, Stearate, Stearic acid, Vegetable fat, and Vegetable oil.
3. Eat more whole foods
One way to avoid items that contain palm oil is to avoid packaged and processed foods. Not only does this benefit your health, but it also benefits the rainforest. Whole foods do not contain palm oil because they are fresh, unprocessed, and unrefined. Here are some easy ways to swap packaged foods for whole foods:
- Swap traditional peanut butter with 100% all natural peanut butter
Traditional peanut butters use palm oil to prevent separation of ingredients in the jar. Opt for an all natural option! My favorite is the Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter. Not only does this nut butter not use palm oil, but it also contains less sugar than other non-natural brands.
- Swap traditional chips with homemade veggie chips
Using whole, fresh vegetables and turning them into veggie chips at home is a healthier and more sustainable option as opposed to buying chips at the grocery store. You can use sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots, and beets to make your own chips at home. Give it a try using this recipe!
- Swap Cereal with Oats
Not only does cereal contain tons of sugar, but almost all cereals contain palm oil. Swap this breakfast favorite with old fashioned oats! Oats are one of my favorite breakfast meals as they can be prepared in many different delicious ways. You can top oats with berries, nuts, nut butters- the possibilities are endless. Try out a recipe such as this one!
- Swap PAM spray and vegetable oil with vegetable broth
Add a bit of vegetable broth to the bottom of your pan to cook with, as opposed to using vegetable oil or PAM spray, both of which contain palm oil. Using vegetable broth saves the rainforest and the number of calories you’re consuming, as oils are usually high in calories (about 120 per one tablespoon) while one whole cup of vegetable broth is around 15 calories.
- Swap cookies with fruit
Cookies are a delicious dessert, but processed packaged cookies contain tons of sugar, and, you guessed it.. palm oil. Instead of reaching for a packaged cookie post dinner, try and opt for one of nature’s desserts, fruit! Mango, pineapple, and berries are some of my personal favorites and can be found at any local supermarket.
4. Change your haircare and cosmetics
Another way to help stop palm oil deforestation is to swap out your products to those which do not contain palm oil. Although it can be tricky to find such products, they are out there and it is rewarding knowing you are doing your part to help stop deforestation. My favorite brand from everything from cosmetics to shampoo to toothpaste is Lush. Lush uses certified sustainable palm oil, but the company is working towards removing all traces of palm oil from their products. As many brands use unsustainable palm oil, purchasing items from Lush can help you feel better as a consumer for doing your part to stop palm oil deforestation. In addition to Lush, there are a few other brands that use certified sustainable palm oil, such as: Conscious Skincare, Pure Nuff Stuff, and Georganics.
5. Support Companies Trying to End Palm Oil Deforestation
The Rainforest Alliance, Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, World Wildlife Foundation, Rainforest Action Network, and Greenpeace are just a few of the many organizations working to stop deforestation. Supporting these companies through donations and staying up to date with news about deforestation is another way you can help.
To sum up, palm oil is detrimental to our environment as it is causing rapid deforestation, a loss of biodiversity, and is a major factor in climate change. Unless we do something about this issue, palm oil companies will continue to wipe out native rainforests and thus, some species will be lost forever. There are many ways to help in the fight against palm oil. Look for RSPO labeled items, avoid packaged and processed foods, opt for whole foods, change your haircare and cosmetics, and support companies that are trying to end deforestation. After all, it is our duty to protect the Earth, its forests, and its species.
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