The impact of importsEthical Business News & Features
Every year the UK needs an overseas area the size of Greece to produce imported key products of beef and leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber, soy and timber.
Land equivalent to the size of Croatia is used to produce UK goods that originate in places where deforestation, social risks and wildlife loss are significant issues.
These are the findings of a joint report by WWF and RSPB – the first of its kind to measure the scale of the impact of UK consumption of key consumer products.
The report, Risky Business, demonstrates the huge overseas impact that our imports may be having on forests, wildlife and Nature.
‘The consumer choices each one of us in the UK makes on a daily basis could be unwittingly helping to drive the devastation of important wildlife and habitats overseas. This report only considers seven key commodities, so if we factor in others such as rice, coffee, tea then the size of our impact is likely to be even greater. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the deforestation and destruction that our consumption has on our planet.’
Director of advocacy at WWF
More than 50% of packaged supermarket products contain palm oil, the annual imports of which require a land area more than half the size of Wales.
65% of this comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil is the leading cause of deforestation in Borneo, responsible for up to a quarter of tree loss, and has led to a 25% reduction of orangutan territory in just 14 years.
‘As the UK government prepares to publish a plan to improve the environment over the next 25 years it is crucial that we don’t just look at the UK but also our impact on the world. Global trade is vital, but we need the UK government, business and the public to step up to the plate and play a crucial part in realising the scale of impact we are having on our world, and to protect it for future generations.’
Director of advocacy at WWF
Rubber and soy
Half of all our natural rubber, used mainly in tyres, is also produced in these countries. It’s putting further strains on the homes of orangutans and tigers in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia and Sabah in Malaysia.
The majority of UK soy imports are sourced from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. This has driven catastrophic loss of Brazil’s vast tropical savannah the Cerrado.
With over 10,000 plant species and over 1,600 species of reptiles, mammals and birds, including jaguars and maned wolves, it is some of the most varied and fertile grasslands on Earth – but it has already lost around 50% of its natural landscape.
In two years the Cerrado, which once covered a quarter of Brazil, lost an area the size London every two months.
UK ‘heavily reliant on other countries’
Each year we require over 4 million hectares to provide our timber, 1.7 million hectares of soy products and 1.2 million hectares worth of land for palm oil.
There has been a huge growth in timber imports, from 8 million tonnes in 2011-12 to over 14.5 million tonnes in 2015 – much from the rising demand for fuel wood.
‘The UK is heavily reliant on other countries for the products we consume. This has significant consequences for the planet. We, as a country, now have the opportunity to show global leadership, in not only protecting our own Nature but also ensuring that our demand for products grown and manufactured overseas does not cause environmental degradation and destruction. A failure to act will have not just environmental consequences but will also damage our long-term prosperity and those of UK businesses.’
Deputy director of policy and partnerships at RSPB
Demand for cocoa creates an annual footprint nearly four times the size of Greater London.
The UK imports almost half a million tonnes of beef and almost 60 million square metres of bovine leather each year, creating a global impact that’s 1.5 times the size of Belgium.