What is it?
Have you heard of palm oil? Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably eaten it or used it before. It’s a vegetable oil that is so ubiquitous, it’s in 50% of all consumer products, including processed foods and cosmetic products. Here are just a few examples of products that typically contain it:
- Instant ramen
- Pizza dough
- Ice cream
- laundry detergent
- Packaged bread
- Pet food
Why should I care?
Palm oil is everywhere because it’s a highly profitable and productive plant. So much so that the palm oil industry is worth $40 billion, so it can be difficult to avoid. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that the industry is also notoriously unethical. Most palm oil is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia, and over the years those countries have become systematically deforested to make way for palm oil. Through deforestation, the palm oil industry has displaced thousands of indigenous people and endangered many species, including the orangutan. To make matters worse, the industry produces greenhouse gases at an alarming rate because clearing land for palm plantations requires burning rainforest. On peatland, the burning process releases 100 times more greenhouse gases than typical forest fires.
What can I do?
It can be difficult to cut palm oil out of your diet or self-care routine altogether—it’s everywhere! Even worse, other vegetable oils are not always better for the environment (palm oil uses less land and requires less fertilizer).
An easy step is to become more aware of the problem, so start noticing and checking for it in ingredients lists. You can also look for the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) seal of approval on your favorite products or try out new products that they approve.
It’s also important to realize that the palm oil industry is unsustainable, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s bad for the environment because of its ruthless deforestation, but if we shift planting to already cleared land and make sure the farming is sustainable so we can continue to use that land, the environmental concerns could significantly decrease. So, advocating for sustainable palm oil production could go a long way. Alternatively, you can donate to organizations that protect rainforests and the species that live within them.
Giving Up Palm Oil Might Actually Be Bad for the Environment | Science | Smithsonian Magazine. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/giving-up-palm-oil-might-actually-be-bad-environment-180958092/
How do we go palm oil free? – BBC Future. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200109-what-are-the-alternatives-to-palm-oil
The environmental impacts of palm oil in context—CIFOR Knowledge. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.cifor.org/knowledge/publication/7898/
Which Everyday Products Contain Palm Oil? | Pages | WWF. (n.d.). World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/which-everyday-products-contain-palm-oil