It is no secret that deforestation has become a major environmental issue over the past decades. According to an article published by The National Geographic, deforestation is the second leading cause of climate change, after fossil fuels. Deforestation occurs most frequently in large forests situated in the tropics, the Amazonian being one of the largest. Simply put, it is the removal of trees to make space for land area. These forested areas are mostly used for farming, livestock, timber for fuel, construction and manufacturing. The harmful impacts of deforestation are that firstly it destroys natural and important ecosystems and vegetation that some populations rely on for fuel (i.e Uganda). Destroying the forests also impacts the ability of trees to absorb the CO2 in the atmosphere produced by human activity (which helps mitigate the effects of climate change). In addition to this, deforestation also causes harmful greenhouse gas emissions (responsible for 20% of total gas emissions). Also, removing forests affects the quality of the freshwater sourced from watersheds, used for drinking and agriculture.
Now that we know the harmful impacts of deforestation on the environment and communities worldwide. Let’s go through what are some everyday products you might be using or have lying around the house that may be negatively contributing to deforestation.
- Palm oil (vegetable oil)
The second-largest contributor to deforestation is the harvesting and production of palm oil. According to an article published by The National Geographic, palm oil is a vegetable oil found in almost half of all supermarket products! It is the most commonly produced vegetable oil worldwide at the lowest selling price- 66million tons produced a year. It is used in household products, food and as a source of biofuel for transportation. The impacts of harvesting palm oil have been so detrimental and have been seen to risk the extinction of endangered animal species such as Orangutan, Borneo elephants and Sumatran tigers. In addition to this, the harvesting of palm oil also releases vast and harmful amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, negatively impacting climate change. It’s also important to note, that palm oil is a very inflammatory oil for the body, which could cause carcinogens leading to cancer. You would be surprised how many foods found in your cupboard contain palm oil! Maybe try and see if you could make smarter choices to consume fewer products containing the ingredient and perhaps not using transport when unnecessary!
- Soy products
Soy products are another large contributor to deforestation. In the same way, that land is needed to produce palm oil, large land areas are also required to produce soy too. The increase in demand for soy products is speculated to be linked to the increase in demand for meat-free alternatives. Soy is mostly produced in Bresil crops, annually we now produce 350 million tons of soy a year! A lot of soy (7%) is used to produce meat-free alternatives: tempeh, tofu, edamame and soy milk. However, most produced soy is used to feed livestock and animals (77%). Large production of soy is also related to making soybean oil; another vegetable oil used in everyday products and food items. The rest of the soy production is used once again as biofuel for transportation. Even though soy products are a large contributor to deforestation, the consumption of soy products is still largely better for the environment than the consumption of beef. Individuals could make an effort to consume more meat-free alternatives such as soy, this could reduce the demand for beef and so the consumption of soy to feed livestock.
- Wood-based products
This one is quite self-explanatory. Because deforestation is caused by cutting down trees. A lot of the wood is transformed into everyday products such as furniture, chairs, tables, art decor and paper of course! In addition to household products, a lot of the wood is used for industrial purposes such as fuelwood and timber. However, fuelwood and timber cause forest degradation as opposed to deforestation and are less harmful to the atmosphere. According to an article published by The Union of Concerned Scientists, the use of wood accounts for around 10% of total deforestation. Furthermore, the demand for fuelwood is set to increase in the next few years. To combat the harmful effects of wood products, we should simply aim to use recycled paper, non-wood fibres and waste wood in paper production. Making these swaps could help reduce the detrimental effects of forest degradation and deforestation.
- Chocolate and cocoa products
The last harmful everyday product contributing to deforestation is cacao beans. The reason for this is that a lot of cacao trees are illegally planted and empty large forest crops in order to cultivate cacao beans. They then transform them into cocoa-based products such as chocolate and cocoa powder. Although there are delegated special crops for the production of cacao beans in the world such as in some regions of Africa, there still remains many illegal plantings worldwide, that could be damaging to the deforestation crisis. Consumers can still enjoy cocoa-based products such as chocolate but should aim to ensure it is marked with the label fairtrade. Doing this will help make sure we are not supplying the demand for crops that are illegally mass-producing cacao beans for profit, and that is further driving deforestation.
So there we go! Are you surprised by any of the items on this list? Being aware of the everyday products we consume and their potentially harmful effects on the planet is important, so we can move forward and make better-informed purchase decisions to help the future of our planet.