Palm oil is the most popular vegetable oil used in products ranging from shampoo to candy bars. It is cheap to produce and healthy. However, the process of manufacturing palm oil is harmful to many animals and rainforests.
Palm oil comes from palm trees that grow best in humid climates. In places like Malaysia and Indonesia, there is quite a bit of deforestation as a result of palm oil plantations. Around 85% of palm oil production happens in those two countries. Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests in order to make the land available for other uses. As trees are cut down, carbon is released into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. As a result of this, Indonesia is the third highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, World Wildlife Fund, and the RSPO, animals are losing their homes and certain species are becoming endangered as a result. Some of the animals suffering from this deforestation are orangutans, tigers, rhinoceros, and elephants. Over 90% of orangutan habitat has been destroyed in the last 20 years, and is considered a “conservation emergency” by the United Nations. Approximately one thousand to five thousand orangutans are killed annually. Around 50,000 have already died in the past two decades because of palm oil plantations. In Borneo and Sumatra, 300,000 different animals have been found injured, killed, or displaced due to deforestation.
“Anytime you’re eating junk food, check if it has palm oil,” said Mr. Goettler. “If it does, try to find some other food to satisfy that craving.”
Deforestation is not only harming animals and the environment. It also has a huge impact on the people who have jobs in the palm oil industry. There are many major human rights violations associated with the palm oil industry such as child labor and under-payment. Children are forced to carry loads of fruit, pick fruit from the ground all day, and they are paid little or nothing for their work. Heat exhaustion, cuts, and bruises are common injuries caused by handling the plants. The adults who are working at palm oil plantations face poor working conditions and are not being paid enough to support their families. The plantations are taking over valuable rainforest land that the locals use, which gives the locals no other choice but to take a job in the palm oil industry.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a non-profit organization that has been trying to make sustainable palm oil. The RSPO works together with The Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) in order to get companies to use less harmful palm oil. Some companies who have switched to sustainable palm oil are L’occitane, Kellog’s, Starbucks, Hershey’s, and Nestlé. If people raise awareness about the RSPO and CSPO, hopefully more companies will switch to sustainable palm oil in the coming years.
“I wish it was easier to eat palm oil-free, but it is in so many products,” said freshman Savanna Bjorklünd. “When I buy food, I try to look for an RSPO or Green Palm label so I can help the planet.”
Palm oil is in almost every single thing you can imagine. Just looking through your kitchen cabinets, palm oil will be listed on most of the packages on your food items. One way to make sure you are buying products with sustainable palm oil is to look for the RSPO label on the packaging. If there is no RSPO label, there might be a Green Palm label. Green Palm helps companies transition to using sustainable palm oil. If everyone tried to only use sustainable palm oil, we could save thousands of animals and could make the lives of palm oil growers easier, resulting in a happier planet.
photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons