About Palm Oil

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees.

Because palm oil is cheap and efficient, it is the world’s most widely used vegetable oil and global consumption is rising.

Palm oil is used in the production of foods such as cake, chocolate, biscuits, margarine and frying fats. It is also found in cosmetics, soap, shampoo, cleaning products and can be used as a biofuel. Up to 50% of products in an average UK supermarket now contain palm oil!

The good…

Oil palm trees are highly productive and the yield per square kilometre is higher than for any other edible oil. Growing oil palm trees is the most efficient use of land for oil, producing twice as much as coconut trees and over thirty times as much as maize. This means that palm oil has the potential to be very environmentally friendly if it is grown sustainably.

And the bad…

The demand for palm oil has resulted in the rapid and unregulated expansion of oil palm plantations, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia, where around 85% of the world’s palm oil is now produced. Vast areas of rainforest – once home to orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos – have been cleared to make way for oil palm trees. The new plantations contain just a fraction of the flora and fauna of rainforests and cannot sustain the native wildlife. As a result, animal numbers are falling fast.

Also, rainforests are often found on tropical peat soils. When the forests are cleared and peat lands drained to make way for Palm Oil plantations, carbon is released; contributing significantly to greenhouses gases in the atmosphere and global warming.

The challenge

If we were to stop using palm oil, we would need to find an alternative to supply the global demand for edible vegetable oils. Because other oil crops – such as coconuts, olives, sunflowers and maize – are less productive per square kilometre, even more land would need to be converted to agriculture.

The solution

In recent years a number of organisations have started to produce and source palm oil more sustainably. Chester Zoo supports the work of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has developed sustainability standards for palm oil produced with minimal impact on wildlife, local people and the environment. Some companies are even taking further steps to become ‘deforestation-free’. We are working, with others, to improve these standards further to make palm oil production even more sustainable

Many companies are now labelling their products as containing certified sustainable palm oil, but not all – so the palm oil on products you buy could still be sustainable even if it’s not labelled. Buying only products that contain certified sustainable palm oil is an important step in helping to protect animals like orangutans and others that share its rainforest habitat.

Our latest palm oil news

08/11/16

Getting close to the largest reptilian on the planet

Find out how remote controlled planes are aiding conservation work in Borneo.

  • Biodiversity Surveys and Ecological Research
  • Human-wildlife Conflict
  • Palm oil
  • South East Asia

27/10/16

“We can make things better…”

Watch this film to see what Chester Zoo's field conservation manager, Cat Barton, and marketing manager, Jenny Tegg, got up to on their recent trip to Borneo and meet some of the HUTAN team who are working on the frontline of conservation in Borneo.

  • South East Asia
  • Orangutans
  • Birds
  • Palm oil
  • Conservation Breeding and Management

12/10/16

What is a sustainable oil palm plantation?

Find out more as we uncover the reality of sustainable oil palm plantations.

  • Palm oil
  • Livelihoods and Sustainable Development
  • Orangutans
  • South East Asia

10/10/16

From Chester Zoo to Borneo

The recent trip was a great opportunity to talk about current conservation challenges, progress made so far and to look forward at future opportunities where we can help make a difference.

  • Orangutans
  • Palm oil
  • South East Asia
  • Visitor and Community Engagement
  • Livelihoods and Sustainable Development

06/10/16

How are we making a difference in Borneo?

For over 10 years we've been partnering with HUTAN - Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation programme to protect the forests and wildlife of the Kinabatangan region of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

  • Palm oil
  • Orangutans
  • South East Asia
  • Livelihoods and Sustainable Development
  • Visitor and Community Engagement

18/08/16

My 1,000 Mile Marine Month for Act for Wildlife

We’d like to introduce you to Ross Edgley, one of our amazing Act for Wildlife supporters.

  • Orangutans
  • Palm oil