How Can We Reduce Our Demand for Unsustainable Palm Oil?

How Can We Reduce Our Demand for Unsustainable Palm Oil?

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Does the point out of palm oil make you consider deforestation, habitat destruction, and exploited staff? You’re not alone. You’ve doubtless heard that palm oil is unsustainable, however that’s not the entire story. We may also help cut back its environmental impression by changing into knowledgeable, advocating for change, and selecting sustainably farmed palm oil.

Palm oil, an ingredient in additional than 50% of packaged products, is in excessive demand. Yet regardless of its presence in so many items we devour each day, many people within the western world know little about its origins and makes use of. And the impacts of palm oil are sometimes deeply misunderstood.

Is Palm Oil Unsustainable?

Palm oil is a flexible vegetable oil that originates from oil palm timber, that are native to Africa, the place it nonetheless has a excessive cultural and culinary worth. The individuals of western and southwestern Africa have grown brilliant red-orange palm fruits utilizing sustainable small-scale and low-waste strategies for millennia.

West African use of palm oil
Image courtesy of @thecanadianafrican

But the industrial-scale manufacturing of palm oil introduced change. Logging for giant palm plantations causes deforestation and biodiversity loss in the tropics. And the darkish colonial historical past of conquest, battle, and slavery in Africa has led to an business that calls for low cost labor and inflicts human rights violations on its staff.

Growth of palm oil production
Image courtesy of @thecanadianafrican

Is palm oil the wrongdoer? After fielding skepticism from individuals who noticed crimson palm oil on the menu at her Immigrant Recipe Dinner series, Yewande Komolafe, a recipe developer and meals stylist from Lagos, Nigeria, needed to set the file straight. She writes, “Palm oil criticism is well-intentioned, however it’s based upon ignorance — ignorance of how colonial systems have evolved into our current global trade.”

West African sustainable palm oil use
Image courtesy of @thecanadianafrican

Today, 90% of palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia however many different nations make and export it. Palm oil is just not inherently unsustainable. It’s our collective demand for palm oil that drives unsustainable harvesting and human rights practices.

Why Is Palm Oil in Such High Demand?

Palm oil is a pure beauty and meals preservative. Refined, bleached, and deodorized, palm oil can be used broadly in hygiene and beauty products as emollients, emulsifiers, and surfactants. Processed palm oil is a common ingredient in cosmetics, shampoos and soaps, toothpaste, deodorant, and laundry detergent.

It’s additionally a standard ingredient in processed, packaged meals starting from sweet bars and potato chips to bread and prompt noodles. After well being advocates blacklisted trans fat, refined palm oil changed them in lots of meals merchandise.

But how are you going to inform if the palm oil within the merchandise you employ is sustainable?

Concerns Over Sustainably Certified Palm Oil

In 2005, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) debuted its “licensed sustainable palm oil” (CSPO) eco-label. It has licensed an estimated 4.5 million hectares of oil palms, similar to 19% of global palm oil produced. The CSPO label appears on over 400 consumer products.

Greenpeace, nonetheless, flags RSPO efforts as misleading. Though RSPO purports all sources are traceable, the palm provide chain is complicated; even licensed merchandise can contain unsustainable palm oil. Though certification entails setting human rights and social requirements, an AP investigation into Indonesian and Malaysian plantations revealed egregious labor abuses amongst licensed plantations.

Everyday products containing palm oil
Pictured listed here are just some of the on a regular basis merchandise that generally comprise palm oil.

Should You Boycott Palm Oil?

Despite imperfect sustainability certification, boycotting is just not the reply.

According to the World Wildlife Federation, palm oil boycotts would not protect or restore the rainforest. On the opposite, it might have unintended penalties, like elevated demand for different oils, comparable to soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower oil, which require significantly more land to supply the identical quantity of oil as palm oil timber require. Or it might depress palm oil costs, encouraging its use in biofuels and livestock feed — merchandise whose components obtain much less scrutiny from shoppers.

In addition, about 4.5 million Indonesians and Malaysians presently earn a dwelling from palm oil manufacturing. We know the business is in want of elementary change: The established order fuels child labor, worker exploitation, and sexual abuse. Yet a wholesale boycott might deprive staff of a main supply of revenue with out recourse.

Elsewhere, palm oil can and is grown sustainably, as with the Seredipalm project that supports sustainable palm oil from smallholder farms in Ghana, most notably featured in Dr. Bronner’s products. Such fashions are small-scale by design and necessity, and might’t substitute present demand.

As a person shopper with few options to unsustainable palm oil, it’s genuinely tough to know what to do. But you can select between “higher” and “worse.”

Get Smart About Sustainable Palm Oil

1. Learn the numerous names of palm oil.

Although seeing “palm” in an ingredient listing is a useless giveaway, labels typically disguise palm oil and its derivatives in plain sight.

Frequent stand-ins include:

  • The acronyms PKO, PHPKO, FP(Ok)O, OPKO, all derivatives of palm kernel oil (which is constructed from the palm fruit kernel, not the fruit).
  • Any ingredient with “palmitate” or “palmate” in it. This contains Vitamin A palmitate, which might be derived from different oils however is more than likely to be palm oil.
  • Glyceryl stearate, stearic acid, steareth-2, steareth-20.
  • Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), frequent personal care product foaming agents.

Find a full list of potential palm oil ingredient names that you simply may discover. Some, like SLES/SLS, are generally additionally derived from coconut or Ricinus oils, however there isn’t a solution to inform from the label. If you need to test the origins of any explicit ingredient, contact the model instantly.

2. Uncover how a lot palm oil you devour.

Do a house scavenger hunt to search out palm oil in your kitchen, pantry, bed room, and toilet cabinets. Don’t neglect to test sweet, pet meals, and private care merchandise. How many comprise palm oil or derivatives typically? How many have the CSPO label or state they’re palm-oil free?

3. Read ingredient lists.

Whether on the grocery retailer or pharmacy, get into the behavior of skimming for components you need to keep away from — each time.

This manner, you need to use your shopper {dollars} to “vote” for sustainability as typically as attainable as an alternative of passively supporting the established order.

4. Push for change — in corporations and certification.

Multinational manufacturers like Nestlé and Colgate-Palmolive (the place industrial demand for palm oil is mirrored within the identify), have website pages devoted to accountable palm oil sourcing, however Rainforest Rescue has discovered this may be just a smokescreen.

Current RSPO certification is clearly not an answer, but it surely’s a begin. Improving the monitoring course of is the most effective compromise between preserving trendy livelihoods (whereas agitating for higher labor requirements) and throwing the availability chain into disarray, which can worsen the environmental and human impression.

In the meantime, divert your individual demand in favor of extra sustainable components and stress corporations to do higher. Ask the place they supply their palm oil and if they’ll show it doesn’t contribute to deforestation or human rights abuses.

Vet skin care products for sustainability. While palm oil options are hard to find — for instance, LUSH combines cocoa butter, olive oil, castor oil, and sodium hydroxide simply to eradicate palm-derived SLS — researchers are investigating solutions. You also can learn to make your own soap and different personal care products.

Educate Yourself and Others, Gently

From plant-based milks to energy efficiency and every little thing in between, we’re studying methods to higher reside our inexperienced values on a regular basis. Palm oil is only one of many nuanced, interconnected environmental points. It presents an awesome alternative to test the place we could also be falling brief earlier than we criticize others.

Consider individuals who drink bottled water as a result of tap water is unsafe in their neighborhood, individuals who wrestle to entry native produce as a result of they reside in a food desert, or individuals who cook dinner with palm oil as a result of their communities harvest it sustainably.

Always inform your self as finest you’ll be able to on the entire story, after which share your data, sensitively, with others.

Originally printed on January 21, 2021, this text was up to date in January 2023.

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