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palm oil deforestation: what you need to know

HOW PALM OIL IS 

Palm Oil has been getting a lot of attention lately as it is a primary driver of deforestation in tropical countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. Read on to get  a quick overview of the story behind palm oil deforestation and the major players involved.

WHAT is palm oil?

Palm oil (elaeis guineensis) is a vegetable oil that is extracted from palm oil trees and has many commercial uses, ranging from edible vegetable oils and personal care products to biofuel and more. 

There are actually two different types of oils that can be extracted from from palm oil trees. Crude palm oil is produced by processing the flesh of the palm oil fruit. Kernel palm oil on the other hand, comes from the kernel of the fruit. 

palm oil tree oil

Palm Oil TREE: where does palm oil come from? 

Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) trees are a tree species native to eastern Africa, as the region offers the best conditions for the oil palm to flourish. 

Today, oil palm is also grown throughout Asia and in some parts of North America and South America — in areas that, like Western Africa, get a ton of rain. In fact, 85% of palm oil today is grown and produced in Indonesia and Malaysia.

palm oil seeds

WHAT is palm oil used for?

Today, palm oil can be found in an extensive range of products, everything from prepackaged cookies and chocolate, to cosmetic and beauty products like lipstick and deodorant.
Similarly to coconut oil, palm oil is semisolid at room temperature and is a staple cooking oil in many parts of the world, especially Africa and Southeast Asia

Palm oil's widespread use is likely tied to its low production costs, as oil palm trees are a very efficient crop (high quantities of palm oil can be produced for small land areas). Not only that, but palm oil is naturally resistant to oxidation, which means it can help to extend the shelf-life of many products.

palm oil tree

palm oil and deforestation

The demand for oil palm end-products has increased rapidly in recent decades, establishing its as a ubiquitous ingredient in 40-50% of household products. In fact, it can be found in everything from baked goods and ice cream to cosmetics, cleaning detergents, air fresheners and toothpaste.

Because of this, it's estimated that around 50 million tons of palm oil are produced annually, accounting for over 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. In fact, the average US, Canadian, Australia, and UK citizens consumes over 10kg annually!

But the production of this very useful product comes with a price, as the environmental impacts have become apparent. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has declared that oil palm production is a major driver of deforestation and habitat degradation. 

As a result, concerned environmentalists are asking that we boycott unsustainably grown palm oil — and the products that contain it. 

palm oil fruit

Sustainable palm oil

Sharon Smith, campaign manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), urges companies to source sustainable, deforestation-free palm oil. If enough companies do this, it will eventually transform the entire supply chain, reducing the amount of environmentally destructive palm oil that shows up in our food.

  • Does not contribute to deforestation
  • Isn’t grown on deforested peatlands
  • Does not violate human rights

These simple requirements will pressure oil producers in the major oil palm producing countries to provide a better product.

Notably, multinational food giants like Kellogg, Hershey, Nestle, and the Delhaize Group, which are some of the largest palm-oil consumers, are already demanding better practices in an industry known for burning forests and violating human rights.

In turn, two of the world's largest palm oil suppliers—Golden Agri-Resources and Wilmar—have made similar commitments for the palm oil they sell, which is great! However, other companies like Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald's, Proctor & Gamble, and Colgate-Palmolive aren't quite as committed to making sure that the palm oil they buy is traceable, deforestation-free, and peat-free.

We will continue to keep an eye on this topic and update you as new developments arise. Feeling bummed about all of the unsustainable palm oil you've inadvertently consumed? Check out our blog post on how to adopt a more sustainable diet and consider planting a tree with us today!

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

As the need for reforestation is global and ever-changing, we feature where trees are most needed now. Today, we're raising funds to jumpstart forest fire recovery in British Columbia. Learn more

With your help, we will:

  • Restore landscapes damaged by a historic season of wildfires
  • Create habitat for iconic biodiversity like the moose and grizzly bear
  • Support old-growth management areas to maintain complex ecosystems
  • This reforestation initiative is helping to restore the landscape in British Columbia after the Hanceville fire burned over 590,000 acres in 2017 and natural regeneration has not occurred. The fire has impacted the forest, soils, riparian ecosystems, wildlife, and water quality. Local indigenous communities have seen their ability to hunt and gather food drastically altered. But your support will go a long way! The goal of planting trees here is to not only re-establish a healthy forest, but also to plant species that will be resilient in the face of climate change. Thank you so much for your support of healthy forests! 🌲
  • Planting trees will catalyze the process of returning the area to a forested state. Newly planted trees will begin the process of sequestering atmospheric carbon, and over time improve the hydrological benefits of the forest. The ecosystems that have been greatly simplified by extreme fire conditions will once again become complex ecosystems, This project will also create habitat for many local wildlife species including mule deer, moose, black and grizzly bear, wolves, sandhill cranes, various raptors, songbirds, and small mammals.
  • A personalized tree certificate (see gallery) to say thanks for your donation. We'll also send you updates about this project, so you can track the impact your trees are having on the community and environment.
  • B.C.'s rich forest diversity includes more than 40 different species of native trees, with some of Canada’s most interesting and valuable tree species. In this project, we made efforts to maximize species diversity, including the following species: Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, hybrid spruce, ponderosa pine, trembling aspen.

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