Something we’ve spoke a lot about in our house is palm oil. Palm oil is ubiquitous in all of our homes – from the food we eat to the cleaning products we use, even in so-called eco-saviours like bio-diesel – yet it is almost single-handedly wiping out the Indonesian rainforest and the habitat of the orangutans. Through our shopping habits we are all unconsciously driving this destruction.
Palm oil is derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree, primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia. The demand for the oil has doubled in the last ten years because it delivers more vegetable oil per-hectare than other oils like soya or sunflower. It’s demand has also been driven by western health concerns, particularly fat contents in foods – as palm oil is free of trans fats, unlike other oils.
The problem is that palm oil is usually grown on the site of former rainforest. Palm oil plantations cover 6 million hectares of former forests in Indonesia alone, destroying the home of indigenous species, like elephants, tigers, rhinos, and orangutans, and triggering enormous releases of carbon dioxide from lost forests and drained peat lands.
Indonesia is now the world’s third-largest carbon dioxide emitter, after China and the U.S, and the demand for palm oil is rising, to the extent that by 2015 Greenpeace estimate a further 4 million hectares of forest will be cleared for the production of palm oil for use in the bio-fuel market alone, meaning that other delicate ecosystems such as the forests of central and west Africa are now being cleared for the growth of oil palm trees.
After speaking more and more about this, and finding out more about the extent of the destruction in Indonesia and beyond we’re looking to reduce our reliance on palm oil, and be more conscious and ethical consumers.
It’s going to be a challenge – here is a list of 30 names palm oil is known by on product labels. Palm oil is also ubiquitous in bread, biscuits, ice-cream, pizza, frozen chips, crisps, peanut butter (apart from Sunpat), margarine, chocolate and many more of my vices (including my dearly beloved Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups). It’s also commonly found in detergent (including “eco-friendly” products like Ecover and Method, surprisingly), and personal care products like soap, toothpaste and shampoos, shower-gels and bubble baths: anything that foams up basically.
You can purchase products from manufacturers who say that they use palm oil that is sourced sustainably (members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil [RSPO] are allowed to label their products as sustainable) however I’m not convinced that palm oil can be sourced sustainably, and indeed others are writing off “sustainably sourced palm oil” as greenwash. Greenpeace, notably, say that “many RSPO members are taking no steps to avoid the worst practices associated with the industry, such as large-scale forest clearance and taking land from local people without their consent. On top of this, the RSPO actually risks creating the illusion of sustainable palm oil, justifying the expansion of the palm oil industry“. Greenpeace have also found evidence that RSPO members still rely on palm oil suppliers who destroy rainforests and convert peatlands for their plantations, so for us it’s vital to avoid palm oil entirely.
I already check food labels for their salt, sugar and fat content (I’m a joy to go grocery shopping with!), so I guess it’s just a matter of scanning a little harder for palm oil and it’s associated names.
We do our food shopping next week – so I’ll let you know how we get on – including how long it takes us!
* image used from here