Is Palm Oil Bad For The Environment?

Palm oil comes from the fruit of oil palm trees and can be found in a wide range of everyday foods and products. It is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world.

But the palm oil trade has caused significant environmental damage in terms of deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.

As palm oil is a versatile ingredient, the solution is to shop greener and look out for guarantees that the palm oil has been harvested sustainably, causing the lowest possible environmental impact to wildlife, habitats and human rights.

So how does the palm oil trade harm the natural world?


To make room for palm oil plantations, vast areas of tropical rainforests are cleared, destroying the habitat of many species of plants and animals and contributing to global deforestation.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, the two largest palm oil producing countries, vast areas of forests have been cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. This has caused significant declines in the populations of many species of animals, including orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos.

A young orangutan

Loss of Biodiversity

The destruction of tropical rainforests for palm oil production also contributes to the loss of biodiversity. These forests are home to a vast array of species, many of which are found nowhere else on earth, and the loss of their habitat threatens their survival.

The conversion of forests to palm oil plantations also reduces the number of pollinators and other species that provide ecosystem services, such as seed dispersal and pest control.

Soil Degradation

The intensive monoculture of palm oil trees can lead to soil degradation due to the depletion of nutrients and the buildup of toxic substances in the soil.

This can make the soil less fertile and less able to support other crops or natural vegetation. The use of fertilizers and pesticides in the cultivation of palm oil can also pollute the soil and groundwater, posing risks to human health and the environment.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The clearing of forests for palm oil production results in the release of carbon stored in the trees and soil into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

Palm oil production itself is also a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, due to the use of fossil fuels in processing and transportation.

In addition, the burning of peatlands, which are often drained and cleared for palm oil plantations, is a major source of emissions of methane and carbon dioxide.

Make Greener Choices

We take great care to ensure that all businesses in our Shop Greener guide that use palm oil in their products, only use palm oil that is harvested sustainably.

It can be a complex subject, so watch this video from Ethical Consumer to find out more…