Palm oil is derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree. The tree is grown throughout Africa, Asia, North America and South America. Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil and is also widely used in consumer products such as lipstick, ice cream and soaps.
Since its creation, palm oil use has been on the rise. According to DW, “The rise of palm oil to become the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet is astounding. In 1970, yearly palm oil production stood at about one million tons. By 2016, that figure had jumped to around 63 million tons.” As it has replaced many other vegetable oils, it has become the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet. Unfortunately, as the popularity of this product is increasing, so is its negative impact on the environment.
To begin, the largest consumers of palm oil live in Indonesia, China and the European union. Palm oil is not created in all of these countries. Therefore, it must be imported. The gases released alone from transportation of delivery of the product are sky high. Palm oil spills can also be a worry during delivery. There was recently a palm oil spill in Hong Kong, after two ships collided. The spill devastated the surrounding ecosystem.
With demand on the rise, more and more oil palm tree plantations need to be created. Therefore, there has been a widespread destruction of rainforests. This is also destroying habitats of many animals. For example, in Borneo the orangutans population has plummeted due to their loss of habitat. The World Wildlife Foundation reports that Borneo has already lost a significant amount of trees due to logging and the orangutans could become extinct within the decade.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (an organization created by the larger palm oil companies) are trying to find ways to minimize their impact on the environment. However, experts say their plans are nearly not enough, but any attempt is better than no attempt at all. Unfortunately, their work may never be enough as 80% of palm oil worldwide is not certified.