Recently the UK £5 bank notes have been redesigned and made with plastic rather than the previous paper versions, with other bank notes expected to be swapped over within the next year. Now, for the moment, I’m going to ignore the fact that the notes have switched from a renewable resource to plastic (a non-renewable resource with massive negative environmental impacts), and focus on the issue of palm oil.
Originally, these notes were made using animal fat. This has since been petitioned against and the government have been looking at alternatives. Currently, the main option they’re considering is palm oil.
Issues with Palm Oil
As palm oil is gained through monoculture plantations, using a slash-and-burn methods, this causes a major loss of habitat for many animal species as well as large-scale deforestation. The actual effects from slash-and-burn can cause death to the animals through smoke inhalation, and burns.
Slash-and-burn is also associated with soil erosion, air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, and climate change. (http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/palm_oil/environmental_impacts/)
“Today it’s estimated that fewer than 50,000 [orangutans] exist in the wild, split into small group with little chance of long-term survival.” http://greenpalm.org/about-palm-oil/social-and-environmental-impact-of-palm-oil
” Government data has shown that over 50,000 orangutans have already died as a result of deforestation due to palm oil in the last two decades.” http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/Whats_the_issue.php
There are also a variety of social impacts including loss of livelihood, child labour, social conflict, forced migration and land grabs (http://www.sustainablepalmoil.org/consumers-retailers/consumers/environmental-and-social-impacts/)
Dr Emma Keller from WWF made this very fitting statement: “Palm oil has benefits as it produces more oil per land area than any other equivalent oil crop. Worldwide demand is expected to double again by 2050 but this expansion comes at the expense of human rights and tropical forest – which forms critical habitat for a large number of endangered wildlife – unless it is sustainable. People don’t want the bank notes in their pocket to come with such a high environmental cost.” I definitely feel that this reflects what I, and many other conservationists feel about the use of palm oil.
Don’t use palm oil in banknotes petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/ps5-notes-palm-oil?bucket=facebook-post-30_3_2017_20note&source=twitter-share-button
There are numerous plant-based alternatives available, other than palm oil, such as vegetable oil and (to a lesser extent coconut oil). Palm oil is known to be exploited and non-sustainable, despite the fact that it is used in many everyday items. There has been a lot of recent publications over the issues surrounding palm oil production and this has given a lot of people the incentive to reduce their personal palm oil consumption. There are companies with a certification of sustainability, however, conservation groups have suggested that even these products may not be what they seem.
Scientists have recently found a completely sustainable alternative to palm oil – yeast. This could revolutionise the food and cosmetic industries and help to decrease (and even possibly stop) deforestation due to palm oil production. If the government invested in this new alternative it would not only show that they are sensitive to the global effects of their actions (in using palm oil in the new £5 notes), but it would pave the way for other countries and companies to alter their products.