Something we’ve spoken a lot about in our house is palm oil. Palm oil is ubiquitous in all of our homes. From the food that 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.
What’s The Problem With Palm Oil?
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. This is because it delivers more vegetable oil per hectare than other oils like soya or sunflower. Its 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 the 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. This also triggers enormous releases of carbon dioxide from lost forests and drained peatlands.
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. By 2015 Greenpeace estimates that a further 4 million hectares of forest will be cleared for the production of palm oil for use in the bio-fuel market alone. This means that other delicate ecosystems such as the forests of central and west Africa are now being cleared for the growth of oil palm trees.
Reducing Our Reliance On Palm Oil
After speaking more and more about this, and finding out more about the extent of the destruction in Indonesia and beyond we’re going to try to reduce our reliance on palm oil.
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 many household products. These include bread, biscuits, ice-cream, pizza, frozen chips, crisps, peanut butter, margarine, chocolate, and many more of my vices. It’s also commonly found in detergent (including “eco-friendly” products like Ecover and Method, surprisingly). And palm oil is also found in personal care products like soap, toothpaste, and shampoos, shower gels, and bubble bath. Anything that foams up basically.
Greenwashing Is Rife
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, says 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 has 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 try 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!). I guess it’s just a matter of scanning a little harder for palm oil and its associated names.
I’ll update you on how we get on (that update is here!). It’s going to be a tricky one to avoid, that’s for sure. Any tips for remembering the 31 different names for palm oil do let me know. What I do know is that this responsibility shouldn’t fall on us consumers, there should be more legislation at the governmental level.
In the meantime do check out my article on why palm oil is bad for the environment.
* image used from here