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Waste Wednesday: deforestation

  • Paper, medicines, edible plants – these are all items that originate from forests. Indeed, it is far from surprising that 1/3 of all people worldwide rely on forests for their livelihood, and 80% of all terrestrial plants, insects and animals call this ecosystem their home.

    However, this is also an ecosystem that is fast disappearing – the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimate that, globally, 33 million acres of farmland are lost every year. This deforestation accounts for a frightening 20% of all human induced greenhouse gas emissions.

    One of the biggest causes of deforestation is population growth – with a population fast approaching 8 billion people, land on planet Earth is in short supply for agriculture, industry and urban centres. From desertification to mining, land is at a premium. Sadly, more often than not, forested land is not valued for the crucial role that it plays in tackling climate change.

    Crucially, trees have the ability to absorb CO2 as they grow. Although this CO2 is released when a tree dies and rots or burns, if these trees are replaced through reforestation schemes the size of their worldwide carbon sink is maintained. However, the delicate balance of this system is thrown into disarray when deforestation occurs at a faster rate than reforestation, diminishing the CO2 sink and, as a result, releasing vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

    Trees are not only vital in regard to their ability to regulate CO2 levels; their roots play a crucial role in the stabilisation of soils, and the shade that they offer also reduces the susceptibility of soils to dryness and therefore increased erosion. Trees release moisture into the air, regulating the temperature of habitats and therefore providing the ideal environment for flora and fauna to flourish in. They also help to prevent against floods and droughts through the role that their roots play in absorbing and storing rainwater, hence reducing run-off as a result.

    It is clear that forested land provides a wealth of environmental benefits; so, what can you as an individual do to slow the process of deforestation? The good news is that individual actions can have a major impact – start incorporating some of the below tips into your daily life today!

    1. Stop printing and go paperless – in the US alone, two million trees are cut down daily to meet the current demand for paper.
    2. If you do need to use paper, make sure its recycled – if everyone in the US used recycled paper just 10% of the time, 25 million trees and 367 million pounds of CO2 would be saved.
    3. Paper isn’t the only item that can be recycled – consider buying recycled furniture or toilet paper and look out for products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
    4. Reduce your meat consumption - cattle ranches and soy plantations are together responsible for 70% of all the deforestation occurring across the Amazon. When you do eat meat, do your research and make sure it is not sourced from land that has fallen prey to this practice.   
    5. Only buy sustainable palm oil – according to the World Wildlife Fund, palm oil is responsible for the clearance of an area the size of 300 football fields every year. Check before you buy – the RSPO only certifies companies that follow strict environmental and social criteria designed to minimise its effects.
    6. Think before you burn – before lighting your fireplace tonight, consider where the wood that you are burning originated from. Prioritise wood that comes from sustainably managed forests.
    7. Help to replace trees that are cut down through supporting the work of charities prioritising reforestation – have a look at the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace or the Rain forest Action Network, just to name a few.