Palm oil is one of the most consumed vegetable oil products in the world. It is used as an ingredient in almost half of all products made from hair products to chocolate bars. Palm oil is produced from crushing the seeds of the palm tree. The trees grow in tropical climates within Africa and South America in countries such as Honduras and Nigeria. The seed is steamed to loosen the pulp and reveal the hard shell and kernel which is extracted.
It can be processed separately to produce palm kernel oil. The remaining pulp is crushed to release the palm oil. It is then refined and packaged for bottling and sale, or transported in bulk to companies for use as an ingredient in production of various products. The production growth and production process of palm oil can however be very detrimental to the environment in the following ways.
Negative Effects of Palm Oil Production on the Environment
Production of palm oil requires large tracts of land in order to be economically feasible. Palm oil alone is quoted for being responsible for 8 percent of deforestation that occurred between the years 1990 and 2008. The planting process therefore requires massive forest clearing in order to create space for palm tree farms. This has led to loss of large tracts of forest land without the replacement of the trees that once covered them. It has thus contributed to climate changes within the regions which have persistently caused less rainfall and longer dry spells between the rainy seasons.
- Air pollution
One of the most popular methods used in the clearing of fields for the planting of palm trees is burning of the forests. The burning causes massive air pollution from the smoke of the fires leading to increased occurrence of greenhouse gases, as well as releasing a large amount of carbon stored in the forests into the atmosphere. Accordingly, it leads to even higher adverse effects such as increased temperatures in the region. Smoke also creates films of ash on the leaves of trees in the surrounding region hindering their ability to absorb the required level of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis.
- Loss of biodiversity
The destruction of natural forests for the sake of growing a single cash crop leads to the loss of diversity of the plant life within the region. This disrupts the ecosystem of that region as ecosystems are supported by complex interactions between several different species of plant and animal life within a region. The clearing of such regions to make room for palm trees destroys the insect and plant life within, leaving only systems that interact with the palm trees. This destroys the possible discovery of new species and hinders the broadening of biological knowledge held within natural forests.
- Endangerment of animal species
Many of the animal species that live in forests within regions where palm oil farming is done are endangered. By the action of continued destruction of their natural habitats, the animals are left with no options but to encroach on lands that are now occupied by human beings causing conflicts that end with many animals being killed or increasing competition for resources among them to such levels that the animals begin to self-cull. Some of the highly endangered species due to palm oil farming include the orangutan, rhinos, tigers and elephants in regions such as Indonesia and Singapore.
- Water pollution
The steaming of palm seed to release the pulp for crushing produce water that contains biomatter and other pollutants that are known as Palm Oil Mill Effluent. This effluent contains chemical as well as physical waste in terms of refuse and heat energy respectively, which is released into the environment directly without ensuring it’s treated. Consequently, it introduces energy into aquatic systems which is not natural and as such, it destroys the local fauna and introduces other chemicals.
- Soil pollution
Soil is polluted mostly because of the use of fertilizers, gasoline use in weed cutters, and glyphosphate used for the purpose of weed control. These activities cause acidification of soil which leads to its decrease in fertility together with the reduction in soil basicity thus the soil loses its value. It is then deserted due to poor production of palm trees which leads to waste of land. Soil erosion is also caused by deforestation where the richness of the soil is lost.
Simple Solutions to Avoid Palm Oil
- Choosing labeled products
People should avoid palm oil by choosing products that contain clearly labeled oils, such as 100 percent sunflower oil, corn oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and canola oil. Manufacturers use different names to avoid saying the word palm oil. The most common tactic is to use vegetable oil in order to be ambiguous. If one is not sure about the contents of products, using a search engine with the product name along with palm oil or contacting the company to inquire if they use palm oil can serve as a very good option.
- Use palm oil investigation’s barcode scanner
This barcode scanner helps to identify products containing palm oil from products of palm oil free companies. Palm oil should be avoided because it is very high in saturated fat which according to the Centre for Disease Control, states that saturated fats are linked to chronic diseases specifically coronary heart disease. The American Heart Association links saturated fats to increased cholesterol levels which can up the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Supporting palm oil labeling
A way of supporting palm oil labeling is by adding oil producing company names to environmental watch programs which will make it easier to make informed choices and stop contributing to species extinction. This is important because most products contain palm oil under their ingredients but under 200 different names including vegetable oil, vegetable fat, Palmitate Glyceryl and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.
Governments should pass laws stating that products containing palm oil must be clearly labeled. This will make it easier for the public to avoid products containing palm oil.
- Spreading the word and awareness creation
Despite the media attention given on the subject of palm oil, many consumers are still unaware of the destruction it causes to the planet. The reduction in consumption of these products will lead to the loss of income by the palm oil products industries hence forcing them to shut down or at least adopt better means of production because of increased awareness.
- Demands to local companies by consumers to avoid palm oil
Local companies are more likely to adapt to demands made by the consumers, for example the British cosmetics company Lush has stopped using palm oil altogether, opting to use coconut oil in its products instead due to demands from their consumers.
- Marketing attacks by organizations
Activist groups like WildAid, which try to curb consumer demand for gruesome wildlife products like rhino horns and elephant tusks could partner with other conservation organizations and celebrities to convince consumers against purchasing palm oil products, or products that use those items as ingredients. This means expanding media awareness by use of print media and commercials on TV. It will reduce the production of the palm oil products.
- Buying forests
Conservation organizations across the globe should join forces with investors so as to amass enough wealth to acquire large tracts of land and protect them. It will reduce the chances of more plantations of palm oil encroaching on forest land hence the palm oil products in the market will also decrease.
This is an app which allows one to scan the bar code of a product to find out its exact contents and it can offer a great strategy for avoiding palm oil. This helps in shopping for the consumers because they can easily get more information about a suspected product and avoid buying palm oil products.
- Homemade products
People should encourage the replacement of store-bought snacks with homemade products because one can control the types and level of contents in the products. This reduces palm oil content. Homemade products such as baking cookies and cereal bars are quite easy to make and Google reveals many recipes that take less than 30 minutes. There are several palm oil free alternatives which can provide the same healthy effects as palm oil and they can equally be made at home. They also take little time.
- Use of small local artisan brands in place of supermarket brands
Use of homemade products such as baking bread and making ice cream can be quite difficult and time consuming especially in big families but the use of smaller local artisan stores, hand-made ice cream shops and family bakeries are less likely to use palm oil brands compared to supermarket brands.
- Buy from organic stores
Lipsticks and detergents can also contain palm oil. As it is quite impossible to start making them oneself, one should shop at organic stores. One should also make sure to ask them for an ingredient list because contents such as vegan and organic might still contain palm oil or its derivatives.