Palm oil & soil and water pollution | WWF

Palm oil & soil and water pollution

The main source of freshwater pollution from the palm oil industry comes from processing wastes.

Processing effluent

For every metric tonne of palm oil produced, 2.5 metric tonnes of effluent are generated from processing the palm oil in mills. Direct release of this effluent can cause freshwater pollution, which can affect downstream biodiversity and people.

The average biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) of palm oil processing effluent is 25,000 parts per million. In Malaysia, the BOD level must be below 100 parts per million before effluent can be legally discharged into streams.

Other pollution sources

Indiscriminate application of pesticides and fertilizers can pollute surface and groundwater sources, as well as soil. Indiscriminate application of pesticides can also directly kill non-target species.

Overall, oil palm plantations are not large users of pesticides and fertilizers.

The main pesticide used on plantations is poison to control rats. Use of other pesticides is minimal, with a few notable exceptions. For example, the Oryctes rhinoceros beetle, Ganoderma, stem rot, other beetles and  bagworms can require treatment.

Some herbicides are used, particularly when plantations are being established. Once the trees grow and produce a canopy that shades the ground, the use of herbicides is greatly reduced.

Palm oil production requires less fertilizer per unit of output than other oilseed crops. Nevertheless, standard nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are applied regularly to oil palm trees.


Reference: Clay (2004) "World Agriculture & Environment"
	© Mark Edwards / WWF
Spraying pesticides between rows of oil palm trees. Plantation nursery, Puntianal Area, near Bukit Tigapuluh, Sumatra, Indonesia.
© Mark Edwards / WWF

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