Some processes used to extract palm oil contribute directly to deforestation.

Palm oil: The harmful forest-killer hiding in your grocery cart

What if we told you purchasing a pack of your favourite cookies could be directly contributing to deforestation? You might be surprised to find out just how many of your daily products contain palm oil – the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet.

Palm oil is found in 40 to 50 per cent of all household products in Australia.

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Palm oil is found in 40 to 50 per cent of all household products in Australia. Everything from your lipstick to your instant noodles could contain the product, and there’s a good reason why. It is objectively the most efficient source of vegetable oil in the world. The problem lies in how it’s extracted.

Many corporations buy their palm oil from companies that retrieve it with complete disregard for the environment. The World Wildlife Fund found that every hour, a section of the rainforest equivalent in size to 300 football fields is cut down to make room for palm oil production. This level of deforestation is having severe impacts on our environment, our wildlife and native people.

Why is the extraction of palm oil so harmful?

Deforestation is the most direct and obvious impact. Palm oil extraction has no regulations and when mass amount of our woodlands are cut down for palm oil plantations, we lose irreplaceable and biodiverse forests in a matter of hours.

Historically, palm oil plantations have been linked to serious threats to endangered species. According to the Say No to Palm Oil campaign, a third of all mammal species in Indonesia are critically endangered as a direct result of deforestation caused by palm oil plantations. Orangutans alone have lost over 90 per cent of their habitats in the last 20 years. In fact, it is estimated that anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 orangutans are killed every year for palm oil developments.

Palm oil developments also create clear pathways for animal poachers and wildlife smugglers. When the plantation owners create roads for their workers and equipment, it gives direct access to poachers looking for endangered animals to kill, sell or trade. Previously, poachers would be forced to trek through difficult forest areas, now they can be led straight to our precious wildlife – causing more direct harm to these animals.

On top of the threat palm oil presents to invaluable species, the process of removing native forests contributes directly to climate change. Burning timber and forest undergrowth releases massive amounts of smoke and increases the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere.

We have commitments from some of the biggest brands in the world to put an end to practices that enable deforestation.

Which companies are the worst offenders?

A few years ago, Greenpeace set out on a mission to identify companies that source their palm oil unsustainably and called them out. Alongside our supporters, we leveraged our consumer power, and one by one began forcing the biggest brands that use palm oil to promise to protect rainforests.

Fast forward to today and we have commitments from some of the biggest brands in the world to put an end to practices that enable deforestation. But who has made serious headway on their journey and who has only paid the commitment lip-service?

On the positive end of the spectrum, Ferrero and Nestle have made some big steps forward. From responsible sourcing to transparent reporting, each company ticks nearly all the boxes. On the other side of the scale are companies like Johnson & Johnson and Pepsi, who are making minimal efforts across the board despite previous commitments. (To learn more about who is and isn’t making strides in ending deforestation read our full report here.)

The thing that is most infuriating about this lack of progress is that palm oil doesn’t need to be eliminated, it just needs to be sourced more sustainably – which is completely possible!

Greenpeace activists close off access for all imports and exports from palm oil trader IOI in the harbour of Rotterdam, palm oil’s gateway into Europe. Two Indonesian men who have been directly affected by forest fires are blocking access to the refinery with eight Greenpeace activists. At the left side sits Nilus Kasmi Seran (Nilus). He is an indigenous Dayak man from Ketapang, West Kalimantan, and is an architect by profession. Adi Prabowo (Bowo) is sitting second left. He is a member of the Forest Fire Prevention (FFP) team. He comes from Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan. Above the activists sitting on large tree trunks, a banner reads: "Start saving forests: stop destruction for palmoil". Greenpeace actievoerders blokkeren de toegang tot de palmolie raffinaderij IOI in Rotterdam zowel aan de voor- als aan de achterzijde. Aan de voorzijde doen zij dit m.b.v. een paar boomstammen waaraan 10 actievoerders zich hebben vastgeketend. Twee van de actievoerders komen uit een van de gebieden in Indonesie waar de branden woeden. Helemaal links zit Nilus Kasmi Seran (Nilus). Hij is een indigenous Dayak man afkomstig uit Ketapang, West Kalimantan. Hij is architect van beroep. Adi Prabowo (Bowo) is de tweede van links. Hij is lid van het "Forest Fire Prevention team" (FFP). Hij komt uit Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan.

Greenpeace activists close off access for all imports and exports from palm oil trader IOI in the harbour of Rotterdam, palm oil’s gateway into Europe.

How can you take a stand?

So, where do we go from here? You don’t need to avoid palm oil for the rest of your life, you just need to learn a bit more about who to trust with your palm oil products. One of the best ways to help end these harmful practices is by letting your wallet talk.

Support companies like Nestle, General Mills, Ikea and Kellogg’s who have a proven track record of keeping to their promises and sustainably sourcing their palm oil. Avoid brands like Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo who have failed to keep to their no-deforestation promises.

Greenpeace activists deliver petitions to PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson in Sydney. The companies use palm oil in a range of their products, but are failing to keep the 'no deforestation' promises they have made.

Greenpeace activists deliver petitions to PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson in Sydney. The companies use palm oil in a range of their products, but are failing to keep the ‘no deforestation’ promises they have made.

Keep an eye out for the Responsibly Sourced Palm Oil (RSPO) label on your products. If you can’t find these stickers look for the Green Palm label which indicates a product in support of the transition to certified palm oil. Proceeds from Green Palm certificates help growers fund the transition to sustainable palm oil.

With your help we can begin to end the devastating effects of deforestation, and we can’t really afford to wait. Together let’s put an end to destructive palm oil practices.

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