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How to Conserve Rainforests by Shopping Carefully

Educate yourself about products to avoid that are harmful to the rainforests, and which products are harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner to help preserve rainforests.

When you think of the rainforest, you probably think of monkeys, jungle plants, big snakes, and lots of rain. You may not think about oil, copper, and gold, but these are found in the rainforest, too! Companies from many different countries are interested in removing things like oil, copper, and gold from the rainforest and selling them in other parts of the world. The wood from certain types of trees in the rainforest, like mahogany, is also very valuable. When these natural resources are removed from the rainforest, companies often destroy or damage the water, soil, plants, and animals there.

Another reason the rainforest is disappearing is because of cattle farming. Although cows aren't normally found in the rainforest, some individuals and companies are clearing rainforest land and raising cows on it because the land is relatively cheap. However, the rainforest soil isn't very good for growing the grasses cattle eat; usually after a few years the cattle farmers have to move on to new areas of the rainforest, cut down more trees, and start over again.

Although rainforests have been around for millions of years--they're the Earth's oldest living ecosystems--they may not be around for much longer. At the present rate of destruction, all the earth's rainforests will be gone in 30 years. And once the rainforest is destroyed, it doesn't come back. 137 species of plants and animals become extinct every day in rainforests around the world.

Some uses of the rainforest land, like those listed above, are very damaging to the rainforests' survival. However, other products can be "sustainably harvested" from the rainforest and greatly benefit both the native people living in the rainforest and the rest of us in other communities. For instance, did you know that:

  • One out of every four medicines in pharmacies today comes from the rainforest. These include treatments for serious diseases like cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and childhood leukemia. But there's much more testing to be done: scientists estimate that over 99% of the plants in the rainforest haven't even been studied yet for their possible medical uses.
  • Destruction of forests is the second largest cause of global warming. Scientists believe that if global warming continues, it could cause serious problems like floods and droughts in different parts of the world.
  • Rainforests supply yummy foods. Look to the rainforests for Brazil nuts, cocoa, coffee, bananas, yams, and many other foods and spices we enjoy every day.
  • Rainforests are home to many unique indigenous cultures. These people's ancestors have lived in the rainforests for hundreds of thousands of years, and the survival of their culture depends on the rainforest's survival.


One of the biggest threats to the rainforest today is large-scale logging of rainforest trees. To help decrease the number of trees logged in the rainforest, you can:

  • Avoid buying products made from "exotic woods" that grow in the rainforest. These include Mahogany, Teak, Rosewood, Sitka Spruce, and Western Red Cedar. A good way to know if wood is rainforest-safe is if it has a "certification label." An example of a certification label is "FSC-certified," which means the wood comes from sustainably managed forests.
  • Use recycled paper (or tree-free paper made from cotton, straw, or other substances).
  • Recycle paper goods at home and at school.


Another way you can help is by using fewer products made from oil. When oil is drilled and piped in the rainforest, it causes a lot of pollution to the water and ground there. One out of every four gallons of oil coming into the U.S. comes from the Amazon rainforest. Try to do the following:

  • Walk or ride your bike when you can. If you can't do that, keep gasoline use to a minimum by carpooling or taking a bus.
  • Use glass instead of plastic (which is made from oil). If you have to use plastic bottles, utensils, etc., recycle them.


Cattle farming in the rainforest leads to large-scale "slash-and-burn" practices in the Amazon: the rainforest is set on fire to clear away the trees and other plants, and then grass is planted for cows to eat. The meat from these cows often comes to the U.S. for fast food burgers, frozen dinners, and other products. Every hamburger patty from the rainforest means 55 square feet of rainforest land has been destroyed. Try to:

  • Find out where the meat you eat comes from. Ask for this information in fast food restaurants. In the grocery store, look to see if you can find this information on food packaging.
  • Eat less red meat, if possible, and write letters to fast-food restaurants and other food manufacturers asking them not to buy beef from the rainforest if they're doing so now.


Another growing threat for rainforests are African Palm Plantations. Supply and demand pressures world wide are driving the production of palm oil up to an all time high. Palm oil is now the second most widely produced edible oil, behind soybean oil. Palm oil is used as a cooking oil; is the main ingredient for most margarine; is the base for most liquid detergents, soaps, and shampoos; and, in its most dense form, serves as the base for lipstick, waxes, and polishes. Palm oil is also found in cookies, crackers, shampoo, skin care and beauty products, in different varieties of pet food, and many other products. It is also found in a wide array of products sold in natural food stores. Palm Oil is being investigated as a possible bio-fuel alternative.

The main environmental problems from oil palm production are habitat conversion, threats to critical habitat for endangered species, use of poisons to control rats, and pollution from processing wastes. While palm plantations could easily be managed in a sustainable manner, many are not. One goal of biofuel is to decrease greenhouse gasses and mitigate global warming. However, rainforests remove massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When palm oil is produced through deforestation, the burning peat soil and loss of rainforest actually causes an increase in greenhouse gasses. In this case, palm oil for biofuel is counterproductive towards the end goal.

Touch The Jungle strongly objects to ANY African palm plantations within the Chocó rainforest due to the fact that currently only 2% of the Chocó rainforest remains intact (according to Conservation International). Areas in the Chocó that have already been logged or destroyed can be recovered by replanting native trees to create secondary forests which in turn will help support the remaining primary forest areas.

However, in order to decrease palm oil pressures in rainforests globally, here are steps you can take:

  • Read product labels at the store and find the labels that contain no palm oil OR labels that contain sustainable yield palm oil or palmitate.
  • Refer to this shopping guide for sustainable palm oil products.
  • Write letters to ask companies that use palm oil to please switch to sustainable palm oil, and label their products with that info.
  • Encouraging companies to join The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil.
  • Educate yourself and tell your friends – spread the word and encourage sustainable palm oil production and labeling. Use the Resource Kit of Downloadable Documents.


Other commercial activities that are damaging to rainforests include gold mining. A single gold ring produces approximately 20 tons of mine waste. Open-pit gold mines essentially obliterate the landscape, opening up vast craters, flattening or even inverting mountaintops, and producing 8 to 10 times more waste than underground mining. Cyanide is used by large mining operations to separate gold from ore. Cyanide pollution is a major concern. A rice-grain sized dose of cyanide can be fatal to humans; concentrations of 1 microgram (one-millionth of a gram) per liter of water can be fatal to fish.

Before purchasing gold, please visit the "NO DIRTY GOLD" website to educate yourself about companies that have pledged not to sell gold that comes from destructive mining practices. Keep in mind that any natural gemstone and precious metals like gold, copper, and silver are taken from the earth. If more environmentally concerned individuals take time to educate themselves and become aware of where the products they purchase come from, we can together decrease the market demand for products that are harvested from the earth in destructive manners.


The bottom line: Stop and think before you buy. Think about where that item came from and if the production of that item had a negative or positive impact on the environment. Educate yourself about which products are destructive to rainforests and the earth as a whole, and which products are managed sustainably in order not to harm habitats and the environment. Together we can change the current market demand for destructive products into a stronger demand for sustainable products worldwide. The earth will thank you!

Back to "Being Environmentally Responsible" page


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