What is palm oil?
Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil found in thousands of everyday products like chocolate and margarine to lipstick, shampoo and detergents. It’s extremely versatile – palm oil can either be a liquid or a solid, has natural preservative effects, and has no smell or taste - and is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world.
Why does palm oil have such a bad reputation?
Palm oil is one of the biggest threats to forests and wildlife where it’s grown. Enormous areas of rainforests are being cleared for palm oil plantations in places like Borneo and Sumatra, destroying the habitats of animals including orangutans, tigers, elephants and birds. Deforestation is the second leading cause of climate change, and agricultural expansion like the Palm Oil industry is thought to be responsible for approximately 80%of it.
What is sustainable palm oil?
Sustainable palm oil is palm oil that has been produced with the lowest environmental impact possible. Not only does this involve minimising its wildlife impact, but also adhering to high standards of human rights. Chester Zoo suggests purchasing products that have been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which requires palm oil to be deforestation-free. Research has shown that the average carbon footprint of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil is 36% lower than for non-certified palm oil. Chester Zoo’s field conservationists in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia have spent years working with local communities and plantation owners to create and maintain critical wildlife corridors throughout the palm oil plantations. Working in areas that have already suffered from major deforestation and fragmentation to educate local communities and support reforestation is now providing animals safe passage between plantations, and is creating a growing forest-agricultural mosaic landscape for wildlife in the region.
Why can’t we just stop buying things that contain palm oil?
Increased demand for palm oil has caused extensive habitat destruction across South East Asia, and in particular, Indonesia and Malaysia, where around 85% of palm oil is grown. Deforestation is a major environmental crisis, and is now the second leading cause of climate change globally, after burning fossil fuels. The demand for palm oil is so high that the industry will remain for the long term; habitat fragmentation and destruction has already occurred and moving demand to other vegetable oils would require more land for crops, impacting biodiversity elsewhere. It’s widely recognised amongst scientists and conservation organisations that deforestation-free certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) production is the most feasible solution to preventing further environmental damage whilst also tackling social and economic challenges.