Friday, April 17, 2009

The Rainforests - Part Four

This is part four, and the final article, of our rainforest discussion. You can read earlier discussions here: Part One, Part Two and Part Three. Today we'll continue talking about products that hurt the rainforest and how we can help.


One of the biggest causes of deforestation of rainforests is clearing for export agriculture. Bananas are the world’s most popular fruit -- and with a market of nearly $5 billion a year, the most important food crop after rice, wheat and maize. They are an economic pillar in many tropical countries, providing millions of jobs for rural residents. But for much of its history, the banana business was known for widespread deforestation, poor waste disposal, the pollution of coral reefs and nearby watersheds and the excessive use of toxic agrochemicals. To read an earlier article on Bananas, please click HERE).

When buying bananas, opt for organic and fair trade varieties. Since finding them in most grocery stores is difficult, I suggest writing letters to grocery chains, asking them for organic, fair trade bananas. If you do this, be prepared to hear back from both grocery stores and companies such as Del Monte, who recently wrote to me, saying that their policies ensure sustainable practices and fair treatment of farmers and workers. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt, however ... I have yet to see the fair trade label on bananas in my local market. Consequently, I have stopped buying bananas and instead opt for fruits that are sustainably grown and produced with fair labor practices.


Aluminum products start out as mined ore, mainly bauxite, which is mined, mostly in tropical and sub-tropical areas – Africa, West Indies, South America and Australia. As we've already learned, roads constructed for mining purposes contribute heavily to deforestation. Once the Bauxite is extracted, it is refined into aluminum oxide trihydrate (alumina) and then electrolytically reduced into metallic aluminum. This process uses primary aluminum production facilities located all over the world, often in areas where there are abundant supplies of inexpensive energy, such as hydro-electric power. In the Amazon, massive hydroelectric plants (dams) have been built on the rivers. These dams are responsible for the flooding of vast areas of pristine rainforests.

How can we make a difference? Avoid disposable containers whenever possible. Recycle all aluminum. If you have the choice between glass and aluminum ... choose glass ... it takes less energy to create.


Gold is found in the rainforests of Brazil, Ghana, Columbia and Peru (among others). Extracting it is frequently a destructive activity that damages the ecosystem and causes problems for people living nearby and downstream from mining operations. In the Amazon rainforest most mining today revolves around alluvial gold deposits. Due to the meandering nature of Amazon rivers, gold is found both in river channels and on the floodplains where rivers once ran. These deposits are actively mined by large-scale operators and informal, small-scale miners. Both operators rely heavily on hydraulic mining techniques, blasting away at river banks, clearing floodplain forests, and using heavy machinery to expose potential gold-yielding gravel deposits. Unfortunately, rainforests that can, provide either gold or forest benefits, but not both ... and gold is big business.

Here are a few things that we can do ... instead of buying gold jewelry, look for platinum or titanium ... both make lovely pieces. If you have broken or unused items of gold, recycle them (most jewelers will buy them for reuse in new pieces).

Coffee and Chocolate

Who doesn't enjoy a wonderful cup of coffee ... or a decadent piece of chocolate. Both coffee and cocoa beans grow on tropical trees. The problem is that large commercial growers cut down sections of the rainforest to grow coffee and cocoa ... in the sun. Ironically, these trees actually prefer the shade offered by the canopy of the forest. When industrial methods are used, not only does deforestation happen, but a great deal of pollution happens ... sun grown cocoa and coffee need a lot of fertilizer and pesticides to grow.

When buying coffee and chocolate, choose shade grown or fair trade varieties. Again ... fair trade varieties will be labeled as such.

We've talked a great deal about various products which affect the rainforests of the world. These are not the only ones. Still others include rayon, flowers, palm oil and soy. Some of these items destroy forest trees for their hidden treasures ... others precipitate deforestation for farms.

It is clear that our purchases have power and along with that power comes a responsibility to know where products come from and avoid those that hurt any environment, especially the rainforest.

For additional reading on rainforests, I suggest the following two sites:

Rainforest Relief
Mongabay - Tropical Rainforest Conservation

That wraps up our series on Rainforests. As I said in the beginning, it's an expansive subject and these four posts, by no means, cover the topic completely. But they do give us a few things to think about. I learned a lot this week ... I hope you did, as well!

As always ... I would love to hear from you!