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Palm oil: what you need to know

Posted by Fiona Nicholls - 22nd September 2018


In the last few months we’ve stepped up our campaign to make brands come clean about palm oil. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is palm oil?

It’s made from the fruits of African oil palm trees, which are mainly grown on plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, and it’s found in the products we buy in UK supermarkets – from chocolate to oven chips to cosmetics. It’s also used increasingly in biofuels across Europe (although not in the UK).

Why is it a problem?

To feed the growing demand for palm oil, tropical rainforests and peatlands in Indonesia and other countries are being torn down, with ever-expanding oil palm plantations grown in their place. But it doesn’t have to be this way – palm oil can be grown without destroying rainforests

How much land is being cleared?

An area the size of a football pitch is torn down in Indonesia’s rainforest every 25 seconds, with palm oil driving the destruction. These rainforests are hotspots for biodiversity, and vital for regulating the Earth’s climate.

Residents rescue a 7 month old orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) from forest fires, while he was drinking water from the river inside the PT Graha Agro Nusantera (PT GAN) oil palm concession, in an oil palm plantation near the village of Linga, Sungai Ambawang Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan. The orangutan is now under the custody of the Conservation and Natural Resources (BKSDA).

What’s the impact on wildlife?

Indonesia has more threatened and endangered species than any other country on earth – largely because their habitats have been destroyed, in many cases to expand palm oil plantations. 

Bornean orangutan numbers more than halved between 1999 and 2015 with the loss of approximately 150,000 individuals – we lose 25 orangutans every day.

Why is Greenpeace targeting brands?

In the past decade, brands including Nestle, Unilever and Mars have promised they would clean up the palm oil in their products by 2020 – but with less than two years to go, forest destruction in Indonesia shows no signs of slowing down. So we’re putting pressure on the big brands to make sure they put pressure on their suppliers.

Two orangutans sit in a cage at the International Animal Rescue (IAR) orangutan facility in Ketapang, West Kalimantan. Greenpeace Forest Fire Prevention (FFP) team is visiting the rescue centre to learn how to treat orangutans if they are found as victims of forest fires.

How is Greenpeace pushing for change?

In January this year, we challenged 16 of the world’s biggest brands to name the palm oil companies and mills they use. Twelve named their suppliers, which in every case included companies known to destroy forests. The rest failed to respond. Our climate depends on companies ending their role in deforestation, so we’re holding them to account.

Now it’s time to get companies to do something unprecedented – to drop the biggest, dirtiest palm oil trader in the world – Wilmar.

What products contain palm oil from deforestation?

It’s in loads of products! In fact, it’s in 50% of supermarket products – some of which we come across or use everyday like Kit-Kat, Colgate toothpaste, Johnson’s baby lotion,  Dove’s soap, Doritos, Kellogg’s Pop Tarts, Ritz crackers, M&M’s, Head & Shoulders shampoo, and many others!

These companies buy their palm oil from Wilmar – the dirtiest palm oil giant in the world – fuelling destruction, forest fires and human rights abuses across Indonesia.

Palm oil does not have to come from rainforest destruction. Palm oil production is actually really land efficient, however, traders like Wilmar are working with companies destroying new areas of rainforest to grow it.

But Wilmar won’t change until big companies stop buying its dirty palm oil – and that‘s why we are calling on these companies to drop Wilmar.

Add your name and tell big brands to stop using palm oil from forest destroyers:

Watch and share our new video about Rang-tan, a baby orangutan in trouble:

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About Fiona Nicholls

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Twitter: @fifinicholls Instagram: @fifinicholls35mm