Using supposedly renewable palm oil may save consumers’ money, but comes at the cost of forests, pollution and the destruction of endangered species’ habitats.
A recent Purdue study found deforestation on the rise in many palm-oil producing countries. This process is happening even faster in areas that claim to be “sustainable” producers of the oil, according to the research.
The study was led by Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, a research associate at the Forest Advanced Computing and Artificial Intelligence Lab of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue.
“Oil palms are grown in some of the most sensitive and ecologically important forests in the world,” Gatti said in a Purdue News release. “We’ve seen that even when operations are certified as sustainable, there is still significant forest loss.”
Gatti and his colleagues from Purdue, along with researchers at Tomsk State University published their discovery in the journal “Science of the Total Environment.” The international journal focuses on research on the total environment, which consists of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, lithosphere and anthroposphere.
In the release, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and the Palm Oil Innovative Group have both developed guidelines to keep the sale of palm oil sustainable, which, according to Gatti, aren’t effective.
The release stated that from 2001-2016, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, and Indonesia have lost about 3,100 million acres of forest. Additionally, in areas required to implement sustainable practices, 38 percent of land has been deforested, compared to 34 percent of forests lost in areas where sustainability isn’t enforced.
The process of harvesting palm oil consists of slashing and burning, which leads to pollution of the environment and the release of greenhouse gases. Deforestation is also a threat to animal and plant habitats, including the habitat of the only three remaining orangutan species.