We might not notice it, but palm oil is just about everywhere. It is widely used across the industry, especially in processed foods and beauty products. In a rough estimate, palm oil is present in more than 50% of the products you will find on supermarket shelves. Thanks to its relatively low cost, high efficiency and versatility, this oil produced from palm fruits and kernels quickly became the number one product in the industry. But it also has brought along some serious problems – more specifically deforestation.
In order to make space for palm tree cultivation, wide areas of native forests in Southeast Asia have been completely destroyed. Slothino, as an eco-conscious casino, is always trying to raise awareness about important environmental issues. Before grabbing your next Slothino casino bonus, let’s take a look at the palm oil problem and what can be done to change this situation.
What is Palm Oil and How is It Produced?
The palm tree is native to western Africa. Palm oil isn’t exactly new either – quite the opposite, in fact. Its use dates back to 7,000BC. Early European merchants also traded for palm oil in west Africa to use it for cooking. The demand for palm oil rose during the Industrial Revolution, as it became a very popular option to use as a lubricant for early machinery. Since then, the demand for palm oil production has gone up quite significantly.
There are currently two methods to extract it. The most common one uses the palm tree fruit, squeezing it to extract oil from its pulp. Palm oil is reddish in color, but it becomes transparent once processed. Another method used to obtain palm oil is crushing the kernel, which produces a transparent oil. Extracting oil from the fruit is a much more efficient process.
While the palm tree is native to Africa, it found a new home in Southeast Asia. Indonesia and Malaysia are responsible for over 85% of the global palm oil production. And this is where the problem begins.
Palm Oil and the Deforestation Problem
Since the oil palm tree isn’t native to Southeast Asia, massive areas of native rainforest have already been destroyed to make way for palm tree cultivation. A number of problems arise from this. Rainforests function as massive carbon dioxide deposits, stopping it from dispersing into the atmosphere instead. Deforestation releases the gas stored within the trees. These areas are often occupied by mostly untouched native forests. It’s home to some critically endangered species, such as orangutans, elephants and rhinos. Destruction of their habitat is one of the main reasons why these species are close to extinction. Palm oil production has made that situation worse.
The demand for palm oil has increased quite significantly over the past few decades. Its high versatility, combined with cheap costs, have made it into an industry favorite. Thailand, Nigeria, Colombia and Ecuador are also among the world’s largest palm oil producers.
Why is Palm Oil So Popular?
As it’s been mentioned already, palm oil is extremely versatile and cheap, not to mention that palm oil extraction is also a highly efficient process. Palm oil remains solid at room temperature, which makes it a cheap substitute for butter, or a healthier alternative to margarine and other hydrogenated vegetable fats. Since it’s rich in saturated fats, palm oil also has a high oxidative stability, which increases the products’ shelf-life.
Extracting oil from the palm tree fruit is a very efficient process. That’s even more evident when compared to other fairly common vegetable oils. Palm trees can produce 3.3 tonnes of oil per hectare. For the sake of comparison, coconut and sunflower can only produce 0.7 tonnes of oil per hectare. This naturally makes palm oil a much cheaper option, which in turn also increases the demand for it. And once the demand goes up, so does the need to increase production. As a result, deforestation once again becomes an issue as native forests make way for more palm trees.
What Can We Do to Deal With the Palm Oil Problem?
At first glance, the solution seems quite simple: stop consuming palm oil. However, that’s not the case at all. While cutting down on processed foods or completely removing them from your eating habits is highly recommended, you would probably have a hard time finding suitable replacements for other products that contain palm oil in their composition. At the same time, palm oil production represents a reliable source of income for many families, And since it’s relatively cheap, palm oil is also used as a cooking oil in many countries. The alternative is to look for products with the RSPO certification.
Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil Certification
Established in 2004, the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (or RSPO for short) is responsible for certifying sustainable palm tree oil producers. Buying products that use RSPO-certified palm tree oil means that you are already doing your part by supporting companies that help local communities while also protecting the environment. Of course, cutting off on some products is also recommended. But simply buying them from reliable sources is already a huge step.
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