Do you know about the world’s most popular vegetable oil, palm oil? It is found in 40-50% of household goods from laundry detergent to lipstick, baked goods, shampoo, toothpaste… and that’s just the start. Palm oil is mostly farmed in Malaysia, Indonesia, Africa, Asia, North America and South America. Palm fruit thrives in these areas because of the heat and humidity. These facts about this oil make it seem as harmless as the production of any other good, but what lies behind the facts will really shock you. As a consumer we encourage you to be conscientious of what you are purchasing and how it is created, so let’s dig a little bit deeper into the dirty secrets of palm oil to examine how bad the production of this oil really is for people and the planet.
Palm oil growers have cleared out some of the most essential carbon-capturing forests in our world. By clearing out the forests, the palm growers are aiding in the release of carbon dioxide into the air and contributing greatly to climate change. The act of clearing is making a huge impact because it is happening rapidly. According to the Say No To Palm Oil campaign, “Every hour, an area the size of 300 football fields is cleared in Indonesia and Malaysia to make way for palm plantations.” Imagine that!! 300 football fields of habitats and homes being taken away per HOUR! Imagine the amount of smoke that comes from the burning timber and undergrowth as a byproduct of all this clearing. This emits a large amount of harmful gasses into the atmosphere. As the trees are being destroyed, what is happening to the sentient beings that inhabit them?
The palm oil industry is responsible for the decrease in population of species who are currently at risk for extinction. As trees are being cleared, many animals are killed, injured, or misplaced by the removal of their homes. One-third of all mammal species in Indonesia are critically endangered because of the degradation of their habitats. The orangutans have lost 80% of their natural habitat in the last 20 years because of the palm oil industries need for land. In result, 1000-5000 orangutans are killed each year and they could potentially become extinct in the next 5-10 years. How does this impact the environment?
Orangutans are responsible for ecological diversity in seed dispersal and plant growth. Seeds germinate in the orangutan’s digestive system and without this process, this would cause a lack of plant growth in the environment. The problem gets worse. Aside from the decrease in orangutans populations, there are currently only 400 tigers left in Sumatra when in 1978 there was a population over 1000. Sumatra rhinos have a population that is decreasing daily and is less than 200. Since the land is being cleared and uncovered, it’s easier for elephants to be poached for ivory while many other animals are captured to be sold as luxury pets to zoos or private buyers.
In addition to not honoring the rights of animals and the land, big palm oil doesn’t observe the civil rights of the workers that they have. They employ thousands of child laborers forced to work because many of them are pulled into the industry by debt or taken by human traffickers. These children are forced to carry heavy loads of fruit and spend hours in the heat while experiencing physical pain and heat exhaustion for little to no pay. Workers depend on this income since the land they cultivated before has been stripped away from them to use for the palm plantations. It is a vicious cycle that keeps the locals trapped in low-income standings.
Through all of this sadness, there is hope for a change. Different organizations, like the Orangutan Conservancy and Say No to Palm Oil, is trying to help stop big palm oil and help make an effort towards conservation of the people, animals, and environment that is being farmed. Hopefully we will see a positive change in this situation, but for now, we have to fight to protect our environment from money-hungry producers and create a better life for all of the beings in these over-farmed areas. Our tip? Don’t consume or purchase palm oil/any products with this ingredient. #VoteWithYourDollar
Post by Carly Bergman & Julia Reggio, Sustainable Duo intern.