The problem with palm oil
We should avoid products with palm oil if we want to protect the environment – that is what I know, and what you probably also have heard before. But what exactly is so bad about palm oil and how does it harm the environment? And why is it contained in so many different products?
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that is extracted from the fruit of palm trees, either by squeezing the fruit or by crushing the stone in the middle of the fruit. It is a very efficient crop, it produces more oil than any other vegetable oil crop. Because it is very versatile it is included in a wide range of products – from pizza and chocolate to shampoo, lipstick and deodorant, or in animal feed. It is also often used in biodiesel and for heat and power. Palm oil is odorless and colorless, at room temperature, it is semi-solid, stable at high temperatures, and it’s resistant to oxidation, which makes it able to give products a longer shelf-life.
The problem with palm oil is that it is one of the main causes of deforestation. Over 25% of the Indonesian rainforest has been deforested. This is destroying habitats of endangered species like the Orangutan and the Sumatran rhino. The palm tree’s roots soak up a lot of water from the ground, damaging the soil. Because the trees and soil in the rainforest hold a lot of CO2, cutting them down releases all of it into the atmosphere and therefore supports climate change.
The reason we cannot simply switch to a different vegetable oil is because of how efficient palm oil is as a crop. Palm oil supplies 35% of the worlds demands for vegetable oil and to get the same amount of other vegetable oil like soy or coconut oil, a lot more land would be needed, which would then again threaten other habitats and animals. The people in places that produce palm oil also heavily depend on the industry and the crops.
So, what can we as individuals do to help stopping the deforestation of the rainforest? As individuals, we can try to be more aware of the products we use contain palm oil and if possible switch to another, more sustainable, alternative. However, in this case, to fix this problem action from big corporations and governments is necessary, so more sustainable alternatives that give the people working in the palm oil industry an income from different crops can be created. If you want to invest money, supporting organizations that support the reforestation of for example former palm oil plantations is always a possibility.
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