It’s been a little while since my last post in the ingredients to avoid series, so I thought it was about time I put my detective hat on again and explored another ingredient that we should all be trying to avoid using. This time, I’m talking palm oil – what it is, what the problems are, how to identify it and what to choose instead!
I’ve already talked about palm oil once here on I Spy Plum Pie – last year around Easter, with a guide to palm oil free Easter eggs, so if you haven’t checked that out then I’d recommend having a read before Easter rolls around again this year!
First things first, what is Palm Oil?
Palm oil comes from the palm oil tree which is native to Central & South America and West Africa, but grows in any tropical climate, with most of the world’s supply of palm oil coming from Indonesia and Malaysia.
Palm oil is used in everything from cleaning products, makeup and other personal care products, as well as processed foods.
Why is this a problem?
Palm oil plantations are the cause behind the illegal deforestation of rainforests across South-East Asia, with the World Wildlife Fund estimating that 300 football fields of rainforest are being destroyed every hour, which is a scary, scary figure. It’s the fastest rate of deforestation that has occurred in history, and it’s set to double in the next decade.
This creates a range of problems. First, the land is illegally logged to be used for timber, pulp and paper, and then the land gets burned so it can be planted with young palm oil plants. This regular burning is releasing large amounts of additional CO2 into the atmosphere each year, as well as resulting in air pollution in nearby regions and cities.
This illegal logging also means that there are no controls put in place around wildlife protection which means all the native animals are either displaced, killed or sold into the illegal pet trade. This has had a disastrous impact on species like orangutans, slow loris and elephants, as they are losing much of their native habitat. 90% of the organutans native habitat is believed to have been destroyed in the last 20 years, which is why they have become the (very cute) face of the anti-palm oil movement in recent years.
What is being done about it?
An industry association known as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was set up in 2004 which established an accreditation system for ‘sustainable’ palm oil. One of the requirements that the palm oil company must meet to be certified is that the palm oil company cannot be planting on forested areas that were cleared after 2005, which should reduce the illegal logging of forested areas.
Unfortunately, brands are able to say they are using RSPO certified sustainable palm oil as long as they have committed to be fully sustainable by the end of 2015, so right now it can be tricky to know that you’re really getting what you pay for. Thankfully, consumer pressure is rising so companies are beginning to make changes which is great for us as consumers and, more importantly, the orangutans and other animals, as well as the wider planet.
How to spot palm oil?
Palm oil can be listed under a number of different names (up to 200!), so it’s not super straightforward to spot on an ingredients list. The main variations are:
- Vegetable oil
- Cetearyl alcohol
- Sodium kernelate
- Palmate, palmitic acid or cetyl palmitate
- Glyceryl stearate
- Elaeis guineensis or Elaeis oleifera (the official name for the palm tree species)
- Sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate (although it could also be derived from coconut oil)
What are the alternatives?
Thankfully, there are alternatives that don’t use unsustainable palm oil, and there are a few websites that have done a lot of the legwork for us, including the Borneo Orangutans Survival Australia site and the Shop Ethical site, which assesses the palm oil sustainability of companies.
Some companies that have been given the tick of approval (either palm oil free or properly certified sustainable palm oil) include:
- Sukin Skincare
- Loving Earth
- Earth Choice cleaning products
- Ceres foods
- Mountain Bread wraps
The Say No To Palm Oil website has lots of great information as well, including a 28 day challenge you can sign up for, which I think I might have to give a try!