Is Palm Oil Bad or Good for the Environment?

Last updated on July 12th, 2021 at 03:14 pm

The palm oil controversy asks why it is bad but is there any good from it either? We take a look at how palm oil affects the environment and communities.

palm oil plantation

An important distinction to make is that the crop itself is not inherently bad for the environment, but rather the way plantations operate. We believe it is important to make that distinction because of our own commitment to sustainable practices. Only reporting that palm oil is bad is a “black and white” mindset that leaves little nuance for the communities trying to change its production.

How Oil Palm Plantations are Bad

Destruction of Peatland

peatland

As global demand for palm oil increases, plantations have cleared peatland in order to plant more trees. A recent publication from the Washington Post points out how destroying peatland is even worse than was originally thought and could be considered a “carbon bomb”.

 

Habitat Lossorangutan

The deforestation of peatland leads to habitat loss in some of the world’s most biodiverse areas. Orangutans live in the forest canopy and are just one of the known species affected by plantation growth.

 

Use of Pesticides

Plantations are infamous for their priority of profits and outputs over all else. In order to increase crop yields, plantations use toxic pesticides that are harmful to the environment and to people. Pesticides have been linked to health issues and often damage soil health in the long run.

 

Water Pollution

Especially when pesticides are used to increase crop yields, communities see an increase in water pollution. If companies aren’t contaminating water directly, water run-off from the plantations ends up in local rivers and streams.

 

How Palm Oil is Good

Most productive oil crop

palm oil fruit

Why is this specific oil used so much across the world? Because it is one of the most productive oil crops to grow. Using the same amount of land, palm trees can create outputs of oil at up to ten times the rate of other vegetable oils.

 

Sustainable jobs for small farmers

Due to the global demand, many small farmers have invested in producing the crop to make a living for themselves and their communities. More than 3 million smallholder farmers account for up to 40% of global production. Through support from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, these farmers have access to funding, training, and certifications to incorporate sustainable practices into their farms.

 

Innovation that could be adopted for other crops

As part of the effort to make the industry more sustainable, the World Wildlife Fund and several other partners have come together to create the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. By working with stakeholders all across the supply chain, they are developing innovative approaches to the industry’s worst problems. Not only does this advance the palm oil industry, but other crop industries can apply their techniques.

 

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This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

Alexandra Thompson

Alexandra Thompson is a Zero Waste & Recycling Expert and the Sustainability Programming Manager for Waste Free Earth. Waste Free Earth is on a mission to reinvent how society produces and consumes waste through education, engagement, and empowerment. They are changing the current business culture to one that prioritizes zero waste systems over single-use landfill items.