Every single day, we use hundreds of objects, products, and technologies without even thinking about what goes into their production. It’s impossible to forego all the conveniences of modern living, of course. But it’s also true that some of these are so ecologically and ethically unsound, and yet so prevalent and embedded into our lifestyle—and it is up to us to recognize the true cost of these hidden culprits. Here are some common items that most of us use every single day, perhaps even multiple times a day—and what goes on behind the scenes.
Arguably one of the most controversial ingredients you can find listed on a product’s label, palm oil is responsible for high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and large-scale deforestation as rainforests are wiped out in order to make room for oil palm plantations — especially in Indonesia and Malaysia where nearly 85 percent of all global palm oil production takes place.
Moreover, the IUCN Red List estimates that at least 193 threatened species are being affected by the oil’s production, including the critically endangered Sumatran orangutans, elephants, and tigers. As a result, there have been many campaigns led by environmental and animal groups pushing to end all palm oil production but, surprisingly, this may not be the best solution after all as it could spell more disaster for the environment and its inhabitants.
A recent report published by the IUCN explains that halting palm oil production altogether would inevitably increase the production of other oil crops — crops that need nine times more land than oil palms to produce the same amount of oil. The solution? Well, that’s where it gets tricky. Although organizations like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) (which created a seal of approval to certify sustainable palm oils) are working to perfect sustainable palm oil production practices, critics argue their criteria aren’t stringent enough.
Regardless, advocating for more sustainable methods of production is definitely a step in the right direction. Aside from labels indicating sustainable palm, look for other options like shea butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and sunflower oil, and check to see it’s fairtrade and organic.
Although coffee grounds can work wonders for your skin by fighting aging and healing dry, chapped lips, your morning cup of joe may also be doing some major damage — for the earth, that is. Like oil palms, coffee flourishes in tropical areas, which must be cleared of trees in order to make room for plantations, leaving wildlife to suffer. To make matters worse, coffee plantations often make use of cheap labor forces in order to maximize profit (e.g., slave and child labor forced to work in deplorable conditions). Worry not, you can still indulge in your favorite morning pick-me-up guilt-free by opting for Fair Trade, sustainable coffee beans.
Look for “Rainforest Alliance Certified” (staves off deforestation; guaranteed fair wage), “Fair Trade USA Certified” (supports farmers in developing nations), “Bird-Friendly” (100% shade-grown, fair trade, organic, which means taller trees are kept in place; also supports bird conservation); “USDA Certified Organic” (organic), and more.
Planet-friendly coffee for the win!
On Valentine’s Day, now just a week away, Americans tend to consume nearly 60 million pounds of chocolate! Yet another crop that flourishes in warm, tropical climates, 70 percent of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa. Unfortunately, the production of cocoa in this region (and many other parts of the world) also relies heavily on child labor and is leading to severe deforestation, as farmers do not typically reuse already deforested land. If you’re vegan, you’ve likely already cut out the vast majority of chocolate options from your diet. Thankfully, there are ethical chocolate suppliers out there so be on the lookout for Fair Trade certified chocolates like Endangered Species Chocolate, which offers a large vegan selection using cocoa obtained via sustainable farming practices.
Cell phones are incredibly powerful devices that grant you access to a plethora of knowledge and allow you to connect with anyone around the world at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, smartphones are also contributing to the decline of Africa’s critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla and chimpanzees. Smartphones are comprised of many minerals, including coltan, gold, and tin — which are commonly found in the incredibly diverse Congo Basin in Africa. As a result of (often illegal) mining operations, the Grauer’s gorilla has seen a sharp 77 percent decline in population in the last two decades! Granted, not having a cell phone in today’s society is pretty impossible, *but* you can help reduce the demand for these conflict minerals by recycling your old cell phones and other electronics! Find a recycler in your area or drop off your unwanted electronics at your local Home Depot, Best Buy, or Staples.
Did you know about these products’ contribution to deforestation?
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