Palm oil is an integral component of many of the products we use daily. Cosmetics are not the only product that has palm oil. Even foodstuffs like biscuits and pizza have it. But the immense deforestation that goes into harvesting it might be killing off an iconic species – the orangutans.
To make matters worse, a recent study has revealed that farming alternative oil can be an even larger threat for living things.
Why Should You Know About Palm Oil?
Those studying the environment consider palm oil as a true and terrible blight on nature. It is responsible for large stretches of forests in tropical areas being cleared. As a result, many iconic species are being pushed towards extinction.
However, a recent report suggests that it is not that simple. Globally, palm oil accounts for only 0.4% of the total deforestation. But, in areas of Malaysia and Indonesia, it has caused a severe 50%.
But just banning the product is not a solution, say experts. Mainly because vegetable oils are still needed by the world. To add to the worry, experts claim that efforts to increase demand for palm oil that is responsibly sourced have returned disappointing results.
How Does Your Cosmetics Threaten Species?
In the world, the vegetable oil most widely used is palm oil. It is estimated that almost half of all the products we find in shops and supermarkets have some amount of oil in them. It is harvested from a reddish pulp of the oil palm’s fruit. The biggest producers are Malaysia and Indonesia. The industry is worth more than $40B. It is found in instant noodles, ice cream, soaps, shampoos, lipstick, and many other products.
In the past two decades, there has been an increasing demand for it. This meant that several thousand hectares of ancient, tropical forest have been cleared away for plantations that produce this oil.
Several endangered species live in these forests, like the orangutan. As a result, the plantations often report conflicts with these great apes because they are forced into gardens. In the end, the orangutans lose their lives.
Orangutans are known for their versatility. However, their one weakness is their slow reproduction rate. So, outright killing is something the species cannot recover from naturally.
So, Reducing Palm Oil Plantations Is The Clear Answer?
Actually, no, that is not how the cookie crumbles. Experts at IUCN say that these palm oil plantations have boomed simply because of their efficiency in producing the oil. Palm oil accounts for 35% of the vegetable oil in the world. Compared to that it only accounts for 10% of the land allocated in the world.
To replace this with sunflower seed, soy, or rapeseed oil would need a far bigger expanse of land – about nine times more. This means that even more land would be cleared. So replacing it will push many more species towards extinction.
The authors of the reports also say that consumer focus might not make a difference either.
Are The Governments Doing Anything?
Yes, they are. The Indonesian and Malaysian government has taken many initiatives to protect such forests. However, the benefits have been very poor compared to usual business. But, experts say that these processes are still very young so with time, there might be better results.
In The End, What Are Our Options?
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is trying to find out ways for sustainable farming methods. However, studies indicate that low demand has limited these efforts. Furthermore, poor monitoring, verification, and reporting are other factors limiting it.
Presently, there are campaigns trying to increase these efforts. Greenpeace UK representatives are one such force who are trying to make the ideal RSPO a reality.