The oil palm industry has been environmentally conscious
and eco-friendly since its very beginning.
Malaysia, as one of the world's major palm oil industry is a highly
regulated industry. Currently, the industry is adhered to more than 15
laws and regulations including the Land Acquisition Act 1960, Environmental
Quality Act 1974, Environmental Quality (Clean Air Regulations) 1978, Pesticides
Act 1974 (Pesticides Registration Rules), Occupational Safety and Health
Act (1977), and Protection of Wildlife Act 1972. The industry is also complying
with Hazard & Critical
Control Points (HACCP) and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements.
Being sensitive and proactive on current environmental concerns, the industry
is actively pursuing ISO 14000 standard series discussions and formulations
notably on climate change, life cycle analysis (LCA), ecolabeling & Design
for the Environment (DfE), environmental communications, and environmental
management system (EMS).
It is important to note that the industry
is also participating in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
discussions. This roundtable is a platform to reach mutual understanding
at the international level among various palm oil stakeholders namely;
oil palm growers, palm oil processors/traders, consumer goods manufacturers,
retailers, investment organizations, social or development NGOs and environmental
or nature conservation NGOs. This understanding would be translated into
common actions towards achieving sustainability of palm oil production
and use in its entire supply chain.
60% of Malaysia’s land mass consists of forests, including some of the world’s oldest virgin forests. Only 20% of Malaysia’s land mass is under agricultural cultivation, with less than 2/3 of that dedicated to oil palm plantations. Moreover, the expansion of plantations has only utilized lands formerly used to grow rubber, cocoa or coconut, rather than forest land.
Oil palms are no different from other
forms of plant life in sequestering carbon dioxide from and returning to
the atmosphere. The cumulative beneficial effects of the photosynthesis
are significant considering the relatively high leaf area index of the
perennial green cover provided by the oil palm plantations.
Studies have shown that oil palm plantations are as effective as rainforests
in acting as carbon sink-areas of dry matter that serve to absorb the harmful
greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Oil palm plantations are capable
of assimilating up to 36.5 tonnes of dry matter/ha/year, which is significantly
more than the 25.7 tonnes of dry matter/ha/year assimilated by rainforests.
With the industry in its growth phase, most oil palms are still growing
to maturity; and oil palm agriculture helps to enrich soil organic matter.
Being a C3 plant it can better exploit high CO2 level than C4 plant species, e.g. lower photo respiration and increase water use efficiency. A study on seedlings show that doubling of CO2 can increase the photosynthetic rate by nearly 10-fold.
care is taken to minimize the use of chemical fertilizers in the oil palm
plantation through the use of nutrient-rich recyclable residues. These
are generated in the plantation and in the milling process. Environmentally
friendly methods of pest control have been successfully employed, thus
reducing the use of chemical pesticides.
Zero burning concept, a new technique that complies with the Environmental
Quality Act 1974 and the Environment Quality (Clean Air Regulations) 1978,
includes the disposal of old palms by shredding and decomposition in the
fields, thereby avoiding air pollution and helping to return plant nutrients
to the soil. Milling and refining techniques have consequently been modified
so that they generate minimum waste effluent.
These commitments of good agricultural practices, zero
waste and recycling has in fact led to the creation of new products from
oil palm using fronds, trunks, bunch waste and refinery distillate.
The industry and its R&D arm are continuously working to improve the
industry’s environmental performance. Various approaches and technologies
aimed to reduce the impact of the industry on the environment have been
converted to successful practices in oil palm plantation, palm oil mill,
and refineries. The industry envisions achieving the highest standards
of sustainability of palm oil.
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