Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees. It is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world. More than half of all packaged products American consume contain palm oil. You can find it in lipsticks, soaps, detergents, ice cream or cookies for example. Palm oil is so popular because it is a very efficient crop and has low costs. The oil palm tree grows in the tropical rainforest. Plantations are spreading across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Indonesia and Malaysia make up over 85% of the worldwide palm oil supply.
However, the production of palm oil also has an immense impact on rainforests that are very important to our world and our climate. Not only are rainforests a home to a great diversity of animals and plants but they also produce about 20% of our oxygen and store a huge amount of carbon dioxide. Furthermore, rainforests are helping to regulate our global temperature and to reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
As I mentioned before, the oil palm tree grows in the same area as the tropical rainforests. Due to the uncontrolled clearing of land for conventional oil palm plantations, we’re losing irreplaceable rainforests. Often the tropical rainforest is burned down in these areas to create space for oil palm plantation. Sometimes, these fires get out of control because of the drier weather conditions. The deforestation of the tropical rainforest is a massive problem. It destroys the habitat of endangered species such as orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers. In addition, huge amounts of emission are getting released into the atmosphere while burning and destroying rainforests. Some of the chemicals that are used on palm oil plantations cause pollution of the soil and water in those areas. This affects the indigenous people that live there. In some parts of Asia, palm oil is estimated to cause almost half of all deforestation.
Some of the most popular replacements for palm oil are canola and sunflower seed oils. However these plants also require a lot of water and time to grow and often come at a higher cost. The closest replacement would probably be single cell oils from algae or yeast. There are some labels that claim “sustainable palm oil” but there is also some criticism about that. Oil palm trees grow in the same areas as the tropical rainforest, so the rainforest has to be destroyed in order to grow palm trees. And the deforestation of our rainforests is not very sustainable.
In my opinion, companies should focus more on the environmental impact of their products. We can’t continue to burn down the rainforests that are so important for our climate. I think that there should be more research about finding and using more sustainable ways to produce all these kinds of products that include palm oil.
Did you know about the environmental impact of palm oil?
Do you pay attention to whether your products contain palm oil or not?
Do you think we have to do more to prevent more rainforest deforestation?