Why is palm oil bad? And is boycotting it the answer?
Palm oil is ubiquitous in our modern life. It is in one of every 2 items on a Western supermarket shelf and has over 500 different names. It has seeped into nearly every category of products we buy: from chocolate, chips, bread and butter, to cosmetics and toiletries (including razor blades), even to biodiesel: a supposedly eco-friendly fuel alternative.
Why is this such a bad thing? Because it’s production is having huge effects: in tropical countries, on people and animals, and the whole world’s climate. Below is an overview of why palm oil is such a big industry, the uses of palm oil, 6 major issues with palm oil production and consumption, a discussion of whether palm oil can be sustainable, or whether a total boycott is the best action to take.
- 1 So, what is palm oil?
- 2 Why is palm oil so widely used?
- 3 Why is palm oil bad?
- 3.1 The industry is killing orangutans and other endangered wildlife
- 3.2 Palm oil production is hurting people who live in the forest and who work in the industry
- 3.3 Palm oil crops are destroying vital rainforests, which has local and global effects
- 3.4 It is very hard to identify all of the names for palm oil, and to trace how it was produced
- 3.5 Palm oil has been touted as a healthy vegetable oil, but poses some health risks. And is it really vegan-friendly?
- 3.6 Demand for palm oil continues to increase, so plantations are expanding into more tropical countries
- 4 So is a boycott of palm oil the answer?
- 5 What can we do to address the concerns we have about palm oil?
- 5.1 Be educated about why it matters.
- 5.2 Become aware of the ways you are supporting palm oil.
- 5.3 Find and certified-sustainable palm oil or palm oil-free replacements. And make your own too!
- 5.4 Lend your voice to movements urging change to the palm oil industry.
- 5.5 Give your time and/or money to causes you care about
- 5.6 Resources for kids to lean about palm oil and deforestation
- 5.7 Pin this post for future reference:
So, what is palm oil?
Palm oil comes from trees that are native to West Africa. They produce palm fruit which is used in two ways: the flesh is used for palm oil, also known as Red Palm Oil or Crude Palm Oil (CPO), while the seed of the fruit creates Palm Kernal Oil (PKO).
Red Palm Oil is used in food production — especially processed and packaged food — and as a softening and greasing agent. It is also used in some paints and plasticisers, and increasingly it’s being used as a biofuel. Palm wax also comes from palm oil and is used in the manufacture of many candles.
Palm Kernal Oil is mainly used for detergents and cleaning products, soaps, cosmetics, insecticides, and some substances for the electronics industry. (source: PalmOilAction.org) Palm Kernal Meal (PKM) or Palm Kernal Cake (PKC) is used as livestock feed, considered to be a medium-grade protein for animals.
Why is palm oil so widely used?
Simply because it has such a high yield in the smallest land area, it is the cheapest option to produce. A mature tree (4 years old +) tree can produce 12-14 bunches of fruit per year, weighing up to 25 kilograms. Each bunch contains thousands of fruits, with each fruit containing 25-30% oil. A heathy tree can produce for about 30 years. (source: goldenagri.com.sg)
Why is palm oil bad?
The industry is killing orangutans and other endangered wildlife
Much has been written about how palm oil is harming orangutans. A recent report showed that over 100,000 orangutans have been killed just in Borneo in the last 16 years, mainly due to deforestation for palm oil plantations. Even in rainforest that remains, orangutans are being poached or killed, despite their critically endangered status. They are killed for eating fruit from crops, although their habitats are being destroyed and they have little other food sources. And they are killed by smoke inhalation from raging fires that slash and burn rainforest ready for new plantations.
Other animals are affected by palm oil plantations too. The sumatran tiger, sumatran elephant, and the sumatran rhinoceros are all also critically endangered, and the borneo pygmy elephant is endangered too. Yet their habitats continue to be encroached upon as palm oil plantations keep expanding. And of course, deforestation for monoculture crops like palm oil destroys biodiversity for animals and plants: in the most biodiverse places on earth. Without such rich variation of plant life, many other animals cannot survive either. Exploring Conservation reports that despite an increase in protected areas (PAs) of forests since 1990,
some 17% of threatened bird, mammal, and amphibian species have not been recorded in any PA, and 85% are so poorly represented across PAs that they may not survive in the long-term”.
Palm oil production is hurting people who live in the forest and who work in the industry
Animals are not the only victims of palm oil plantations. People who live in the forest also face many difficulties, as do workers on the plantations themselves. SPOTT has a detailed and referenced article about the various issues, summarised below:
Many people in Indonesia and Malaysia have been forcibly removed from their homes, as their land rights were not acknowledged. Culturally significant sites have been destroyed, as well as livelihoods and natural resources that the forest has supplied people living there for Millenia. And health problems have arisen from contaminated drinking water, loss of nutritional and medicinal plants, and smoke from clearing with fires: one study by authors from Harvard and Cambridge estimates that over 100,000 premature deaths in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore were caused by fires getting out of control in 2015. And fires continue to break out annually in Indonesia, especially in peat lands which dry out due to deforestation. The plantations responsible for the fires sell their palm oil to major brands such as Nestle and Unilever.
When we were in Malaysia in 2017 we visited some people who live in the rainforest during our stay at an organic rice farm. They had not been removed from their homes, but trees for palm oil had been planted in their region and they were employed to tend for them. We saw one man trying to cut off a bunch of the palm fruit with a machete tied to a very long stick. It appeared to be difficult work with unstable apparatus.
The leader that we spoke with acknowledged that the palm industry was bad for his people, but they felt they had no choice. This is a common situation:
With plantations systematically destroying the rainforest land that the local people depend on, communities are continuously finding themselves with no choice but to become plantation workers. Faced with poor and degrading working conditions, some earn barely enough income to survive and support their families. Instead of being able to sustain themselves, indigenous communities become reliant on the palm oil industry for their income and survival, leaving these villagers incredibly vulnerable to the world market price of palm oil which they have no control over.” (from Say No to Palm Oil)
Palm oil crops are destroying vital rainforests, which has local and global effects
Palm producers prefer to destroy primary rainforest for their plantations, as they can sell some of the timber and reclaim some money, plus they don’t have to prime the land with fertilizers as they would need to with barren lands. This affects local temperatures quite dramatically: differences of up to 10°C in parts of Sumatra have been observed between intact forest and cleared land. And the climate is affected much further too:
The draining, burning, and conversion of peat swamp forests to palm oil has been especially damaging to the world’s climate as it has led to Indonesia being the third largest contributor of carbon to the world’s atmosphere after China and the United States.” from The Effects of Palm Oil
Think about that for a moment: Indonesia is the fourth post populous country after China, India and the US, with approximately 263 million people. India has 1.3 billion people, and yet Indonesia produces more carbon emissions than India does, thanks to the production of palm oil.
Carbon is increased from deforestation in three ways: releasing carbon held by the trees during burning-off; reducing the quantity of trees that can pull our carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; and replacing forests with agriculture which produces it own emissions (via machinery and/or livestock).
But carbon-based impacts are not the only negative result of tropical deforestation: research is showing that it is changing global rainfall patterns too. Forests partly cause inland rainfall, and areas downwind of the forests are dependent on them. More evidence is mounting that deforested areas are experiencing less rain, which affects the immediate area, and again, much further. Researchers warn that the risks of droughts are rapidly increasing, and the effects of rainfall pattern changes can be felt by whole countries as far from the tropics as China, as well as 19 megacities around the world. (source: YaleEnvironment360)
It is very hard to identify all of the names for palm oil, and to trace how it was produced
There are over 500 different names for palm oil (all listed below), and because of it’s low cost and variability, it is used in nearly every type of product we can buy. And to make it even more difficult, is not required to be specifically identified in food in many countries, including Australia: so it’s often hidden under generic “vegetable oil” terminology.
This is a problem because many producers are clearing land for plantations that they are not supposed to be using. Illegal clearing is a common problem, even for producers who have committed to sustainable production methods.
New Straits Times reported earlier this year that more than a dozen global brands including, Nestle and Unilever, bought palm oil sources from illegally cleared rainforest in Indonesia. This video from Greenpeace shows some of that rainforest being cut down in 2018.
And a report by Chain Reaction Research shows how 10 palm oil producers — who have committed to No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) sourcing policies — have been using ‘shadow companies’ and other techniques to obscure continued unsustainable production methods as recently as 2017.
Palm oil has been touted as a healthy vegetable oil, but poses some health risks. And is it really vegan-friendly?
Whether palm oil is healthy or not to consume depends on several factors. As it has virtually no trans-fat content and a long shelf life, palm oil is used in a huge amount of foods. These include most pre-packaged snacks and meals, like chips/crisps and biscuits/cookies, as well as ice-cream, margarine, chocolate, peanut butter, bread, pizza bases and other baked goods, instant noodles, many vegan products, protein bars, and cereals.
Palm oil is about 50% saturated fat and 50% unsaturated. Red palm oil, which is unrefined oil from palm fruit, has some health benefits, including antioxidants, beta-carotene and vitamin E. Some studies have shown that consuming palm oil can decrease cholesterol levels, while others have shown increases in cholesterol for some people. One study also shows that reheating palm oil for consumption increases arterial plaque, a serious health concern. Dr Axe has a good discussion of the literature and points out that
much of the palm oil on the market today is heavily processed and oxidized for culinary purposes. This depletes the palm oil of its health-promoting properties and can have negative impacts on health.”
Whether tropical oils that are high in saturated fat (palm and coconut oil) are healthy is currently a big debate which I will not go into here. But it is generally accepted that highly processed foods are not healthy. Palm oil that is guaranteed to retain health benefits is unrefined and cold-pressed, yet it is doubtful that most processed foods contain this kind of oil. If most foods don’t contain extra virgin olive oil or cold-pressed coconut oil, they’re unlikely to contain red palm oil either. Yet as labelling laws don’t often require palm oil to even be identified, it is very difficult to know for sure.
Finally, palm oil is often used in vegan-friendly products, as it technically is a vegetable oil. But because it is wiping out orangutans and other animal species, I and many others question its acceptance as a cruelty-free product. The industry is directly harming wildlife — not to mention people — and seems to have little care for these effects.
Demand for palm oil continues to increase, so plantations are expanding into more tropical countries
Though 85% of palm oil is grown in Malaysia and Indonesia, plantations are also now growing in Papua New Guinea, Africa, South America and the Phillipines. And they are expanding, creating the same the same issues for humans, habitat loss and pressure on animal life, and lack of biodiversity too.
Satellite imagery shows that despite an uncertain legal status, a Malaysian palm oil company is continuing to clear rainforest in Papua New Guinea as recently as July 2018. A Press Release by Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia reports that all Special Agricultural and Business Leases in PNG were declared unlawful in 2017, due to widespread corruption. And yet the palm oil producer is on track with planting 20,000 hectares of palm trees by 2019 in what was primary and secondary rainforest. The images below shows their recent deforestation:
One reason for palm oil’s continued growth is that is has been utilized as a biofuel in recent years. It was imported into Europe primarily for energy use in 2017, and concerns about its increasing use has led to the EU agreeing to phase out palm oil for use in fuel by 2030. Yet in July 2018 Indonesia announced incentives for developers of 100% palm-oil biodiesel, highlighting new production methods that can produce diesel with 90% fewer emissions than fossil fuels.
I find using palm oil for energy needs disturbing. It has been estimated that palm oil-based biofuels have 3 times the climatic impact of fossil fuels, and yet is being promoted as a cleaner fuel. It’s production has been shown as consistently causing environmental damage, with negative social and health impacts also. It cannot be a cleaner fuel if it causes unsustainable deforestation and harm to people and animals in its production.
So is a boycott of palm oil the answer?
There are two lines of thought about this. Some environmental organisations recommend boycotting palm oil from your life, while others concentrate on supporting sustainable palm oil. WWF supports the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO): the first certification body aiming to make the industry sustainable. RSPO-certified growers accounted for 19% of global palm oil production in 2014, but the RSPO has been widely criticised for not doing enough to ensure palm oil can be produced sustainably.
Research from the University of Queensland found that orangutan populations declined at the same rate between RSPO-certified and non-certified plantations between 2009 – 2014, and that poverty increases and outbreaks of fires were also similar.
Orangutan Foundation International supports a total boycott of palm oil, because the RSPO and other certification schemes are continuing to allow deforestation and destruction of peatlands.
Palm Oil Investigations (POI) used to support the RSPO but no longer does. They do still support the palm oil industry however: making the point that palm oil is such a big industry which many people rely on, it is not going to disappear anytime soon. They also point to its omnipresent use in so many facets of life, rendering it almost impossible to boycott. Finally, they compare its yield to other crops to show that they would require more land to produce. Thus POI supports Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), but not deforestation for palm oil.
Greenpeace has called for measures beyond the RSPO, and The Forest Trust is one NGO which has policies that require more of its certified members. Brands who have signed with The Forest Trust include Nestle, Mars and Johnson & Johnson: yet as mentioned above, Nestle and many big brands have still been linked to buying oil from tainted sources.
The Rainforest Alliance collaborates with RSPO and the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, yet upholds their own Sustainable Agriculture Standard to conserve biodiversity and natural resources, and improved livelihoods and human well-being. Since 2013 palm oil farmers in Asia, Central and South America, and Africa have benefited from Rainforest Alliance training and workshops.
The Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) was formed in 2013 to build upon the RSPO’s guidelines. It’s members include Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Forest People’s Program, WWF, several orangutan conservation groups and fair labour organisations, plus palm producers and companies including Ferrero and L’oreal.
POIG adds criteria for members to adhere to, aiming to create a
responsible supply chain that has broken the link between palm oil production and the destruction of forests and peatlands, the exploitation of communities and workers, and climate change.”
The organising committee for POIG is equally represented by producers/purchasing companies and action groups. They seem to be the best way forward, although many of the issues with palm oil haven’t been improved a great deal yet. I acknowledge that change is complex within such a huge industry, but still only an small percentage of the 66 million tonnes of palm oil produced every year is produced sustainably.
What can we do to address the concerns we have about palm oil?
We can do quite a lot, and we need to take action for our collective effort to have more impact.
Be educated about why it matters.
Follow up the many links in this article if you’d like more information, to understand it for yourself. Start conversations with others about it, and involve your kids or students. I have included some links below for children to learn about it too.
Become aware of the ways you are supporting palm oil.
Palm oil has over 500 different names. Making informed decisions ensures that you are not inadvertently supporting unsustainable palm oil, but of course it’s impossible to remember all of its guises. The International Palm Oil Free Certification Accreditation Programme has provided this extensive list; how many you recognise? Check some of your common household items across all categories — food, cosmetics, detergents, soaps and shampoos, automotive products, candles, paints — and see which include ingredients from this list:
The many names for palm oil and palm kernal oil:
© Bev Luff 2009, updated 2017
1,2-OCLanediol 1,2-Octyleneglycol 2-Ethyl Hexyl Stearate 100 Cetyl/stearyl ether 304 12-Hydroxystearic acid α-hydroxy-N-stearoylphytosphingosine acetylated glycol stearate Acetylated monoglycerides Acetic and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472a/E472a) Acrylated Palm Oil APO Acrylates/Palmeth-25 AHCOHOL 0810 (Octyl Decyl Alcohol) AHCOHOL 0898 (Octyl Alcohol) AHCOHOL 1098 (Decyl Alcohol) AHCOHOL 1216 (Lauryl/Myristyl Alcohol) AHCOHOL 1299 (Lauryl Alcohol) AHCOHOL 1498 (Myristyl Alcohol NF) AHCOHOL 1618 (Cetyl Stearyl/Cetearyl Alcohol) AHCOHOL 1698 (Cetyl Alcohol NF) AHCOHOL 1898 (Stearyl Alcohol NF) AHCOHOL® Fatty Alcohols Alkyl alcohol Aluminium stearate Alkyl polyglucoside Aluminium, calcium, sodium, magnesium salts of fatty acids (470/E470a; E470b) Aluminum dimyristate Aluminum Isostearates Aluminium myristate Aluminium palmitate Aluminium stearate Ammonium laureth sulphate Ammonium lauryl sulphate Anionic & Non Anionic Surfactants (too generic an ingredient, need more info on) Arachamide mea Ascorbyl palmitate Ascorbyl palmitate (304) Ascorbyl stearate Azelaic acid Behenic acid 85% (C22) Behentrimonium methosulphate BTMS beta Carotene Biodiesal Butyl myristate Butyl stearate Butyl Stearate IPM (Isopropyl Myristate) C16 C17 C18 CAB Calcium lactylate Calcium oleyl lactylate Calcium myristate Calcium stearate Calcium stearoyl lactylate (482/E482) CAPB CAPB-KG30 CAPB-KG45 Capric Acid (C10) Capric triglyceride Capryl Glucoside Caprylamine Caprylic acid Caprylic acid (C8)) Caprylic triglyceride Caprylic/capric acid (C810) Caprylic-capric triglycerides Caprylic-capric-stearic triglyceride Capryloyl glycine Caprylyl glycol Carboxylic acid Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) (can come from PKC cellulose) CDE CDE K85 CDE K90 CDE-K85 CDE-K90 Ceteareth (2-100) Cetearyl alcohol Cetearyl ethylhexanote Cetearyl glucoside Cetearyl isononanoate Cetearyl olivate Ceteth-20 Ceteth-24 Cetyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) CTAB Cetyltrimethylammonium chloride (CTAC) CTAC Cetrimonium bromide Cetrimonium chloride Cetostearyl alcohol Cetyl acetate Cetyl alcohol Cetyl ethylhexanoate Cetyl hydroxyethylcellulose Cetyl lactate Cetyl myristate Cetyl octanoate Cetyl palmitate Cetyl ricinoleate Cetyl-PG Hydroxyethyl Palmitamide Cetyl/stearyl ether CITRIC ACID Citric and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472c/E472c) Citris seed extract CMEA CME-K85 CME-K95 Coco - Caprylate Coco - polyglucose Cocoyl sarcosine Coco - DEA Coco - Glucoside Coco Alkyl Betaine Coco MEA Cocoa butter equivalent (CBE) Cocoa butter substitute (CBS) Cocoamidopropyl Amine Oxide Cocodiethanolamide Cocomide - DEA cocomide - MEA Cocomidopropyl - Betaine Cocomonoethanolamide Coconut Fatty Acid Decal - Glucosde Decyl Myristate Decyl oleate Diacetyltartaric and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472e/E472e) Dicaprylyl Ether dicocoyl ethyl hydroxyethylmonium methosulfate Dicocoyl Pentaerythrityl Distearyl Citrate Dilinoleic acid Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate Disodium lauryl sulfosuccinate Distilled Fatty Acids Distilled Monoglyceride Palm Distilled Palm Kernel (DPK) Dried Yeast EBS – Ethylene Bis Stearamide EBS Beads EBS SF EBS SP Elaeis guineensis oil Emulsifier 422 Emulsifier 430 Emulsifier 431 Emulsifier 432 Emulsifier 433 Emulsifier 434 Emulsifier 436 Emulsifier 470 Emulsifier 470a Emulsifier 470b Emulsifier 471 Emulsifier 471a Emulsifier 471b Emulsifier 471c Emulsifier 471d Emulsifier 472e Emulsifier 473 Emulsifier 474 Emulsifier 475 Emulsifier 476 Emulsifier 477 Emulsifier 478 Emulsifier 481 Emulsifier 482 Emulsifier 483 Emulsifier 484 Emulsifier 485 Emulsifier 493 Emulsifier 494 Emulsifier 495 Epoxidized palm oil (uv cured coatings) Emulsifying wax Ethoxylated glycerol monooleate Ethoxylated lauryl alcohol Ethoxylated monoglycerides Ethoxylated Sorbitan monostearate (SMS) Ethoxylated Sorbitan Mono-stearate (STS) Ethoxylated palm oil Ethyl lauroyl arginate (243) Ethylene glycol monostearate Ethylhexyl hydroxystearate Ethylhexyl myristate Ethylhexyl palmitate Ethylhexyl stearate Ethylhexylglycerin Ethylene glycol diesters Ethylene glycol esters Ethylene glycol monoesters Ethylene glycol monostearate Ethyhexylglycerin Ethyhexyl hydroxystearate Ethylhexyl myristate Ethylhexyl palminate Ethylhexyl stearate Fatty Acid Diethanolamides Fatty Acid Monoethanolamides Fatty Acids Fatty Alcohol Alkoxylate Fatty Alcohol Ethoxylate Fatty alcohol sulphates Fatty isethionate Fractionated Palm Methyl Esters Glycerin Glycerin or glycerol (442) Glycerine Glyceryl cocoate Glyceryl esters Glycerol di-myristate Glyceryl distearate Glyceryl laurate glyceryl monococoate Glyceryl monostearate Glyceryl myristate Glyceryl oleate Glyceryl polymethacrylate Glyceryl rosinate Glyceryl stearate Glyceryl stearate SE Glyceryl tripalmitate Glycol distearate Glycol stearate Grapefruit seed extract Guineesis (palm) Hexadecylic Hexyl laurate Hexyldecanol Humectant 422 Hydrogenated palm glycerides IPO (Isopropyl Oleate) Isopropyl Acetate Isopropyl isostearate Isoamyl laurate Isobutyl myristate Isocetyl alcohol Isocetyl myristate Isodecyl oleate Isopropyl esters Isopropyl isostearate Isopropyl myristate Isopropyl palmitate Isopropyl titanium triisostearate Isostearamide DEA Isostearate DEA Isostearic acid Isostearyl alcohol Isostearyl isostearate Isostearyl myristate Isostearyl neopentanoate Isotridecyl myristate Lactic and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472b/E472b) Lactylated Monoglycerides Lauramide DEA Lauramide MEA Lauramine oxide Laureth Laureth-1, Laureth-2 Laureth-3 Laureth-5 Laureth-6 Laureth-7 Laureth-8 Laureth-9 Laureth-10 Laureth-11 Laureth-12 Laureth-13 Laureth-14 Laureth-15 Laureth-16 Laureth-20 Laureth-21 Laureth-25 Laureth-30 Laureth-38 Laureth-40 Laureth-50 Lauric acid Lauric Acid (C12) Lauroyl sarcosine Lauryl Alcohol Ethoxylates (2, 3 & 4 Mole) Lauryl betaine Lauryl dimonium hydrolysed collagen Lauryl glucoside Lauryl lactate Laurel myristate Lauryl pyrrolidone Lauryl sarcosine Lecithin Lecithin isopropyl palm oil Linoleic acid Magnesium myristate Magnesium stearate Metallic stearates Methyl laurate (1214) Methyl myristate Methyl laurate stearate (1218) Methyl oleate (1898) Methyl palmitate-stearate (1618) (Methyl palmitate-stearate – DPK) Mixed tartaric, acetic and fatty acid esters of glycerol (472f/E472f) Mono-and-di-glycerides of fatty acids (471/E471) Mono glycerides of fatty acids Monoglyceride citrate Monopalmitate Myreth 3 myristate Myristate Myristic acid Myristic Acid (C14)) Myristic Cetrimonium Chloride Acid Myristoyl Myristyl alcohol Myristyl myristate Myristoyl Sarcosine Myristoyl Sarcosinate Myristyl alcohol Myristyl myristate n- Butyl esters n-Octane-1,2-diol N-stearoyl phytosphingosine N-stearoyl sphinganine Octandiol Octan-1,2-diol Octyl palmitate Octyl stearate Octyldodecyl myristate Octyldodecyl stearoyl stearate Oleamide MIPA Oleic acid Oleic Acid FGK Oleyl betaine Oleyl myristate Oleoyl sarcsine Olivem 1000 Olive - emulse Oliv-wax LQC PALMESTER fatty esters Palm fruit oil Palmitoleic acid Palm Kernel Acid Palm kernel cake Palm Kernel Diethanolamide Palm Kernel Fatty Acid Palm Kernel Monoethanolamide Palm kernel oil Palm Methyl Esters Palm oil Palm olein Palm stearine Palm Sterine (PS) Palmate Palmitamidopropyl betaine Palmitamidopropyltrimonium chloride Palmitate Palmitic acid Palmitic Acid (C16) Palmitoyl acid Palmitoyl alcohol Palm oleic acid Palmitoyl myristyl serinate Palmitoyl oligopeptide Palmitoyl oxostearamide Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3 Palm Methyl Ester PBS Base Palmfonate Palmosalt PEG-2 cetyl/stearyl ether PEG - 7 PEG-100 stearate PEG-12 Carnauba PEG-15 stearyl ether PEG-150 distearate PEG-2 oleamine PEG-20 stearate PEG-4 laurate PEG-40 stearate PEG-8 distearate PEG-8 stearate PEG-80 sorbitan laurate Pentaerythritol tetra caprai/caprylate Pentaerythrityl tetracaprylate/tetracaprate Pentaerythrityl tetraisostearate Peptide complex PG dicaprylate/caprate PK oleic acid PK DEA PK MEA Planta-Cleanse PME 1214 (Methyl Laurate Myristate) PME 1218 (Methyl Laurate Stearate) PME 1298 (Methyl Laurate) PME 1618 PME 1618 (Methyl Palmitate Oleate) PME 1698 (Methyl Palmitate) PME 1898 (Methyl Oleate – PK) POFA (palm oil fuel ash) Polyethylene glycol Polyethylene (40) stearate (431) Polyglycerate-60 Polyglycerol esters of fatty acids (475/E475) Polyglycerol esters of interesterified ricinoleic acid (476/E476) Polyglycerol-2 oleyl ether Polyglyceryl-3 dilisostearate Polyglyceryl-4 isostearate Polyglyceryl-4 laurate Polyglyceryl-4 oleyl ether Polyoxyethylene Polyoxyethylene Glycol (PEG-7) Polysorbate 60 or polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monostearate (435/E435) Polysorbate 65 or polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan tristearate (436/E436) Polysorbate 80 or polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monoolate (433/E433) Polysorbate-20 Polysorbate-40 Polysorbate-60 Polysorbate-65 Polysorbate-80 Polysorbate-85 POME palm oil mill effluent Potassium Cetyl Phosphate Potassium Palmitate Potassium myristate Potassium stearate PPG-15 stearate ether PPG-4 Laureth-5 Propylene glycol monoester Propylene glycol myristate Propylene glycol Propylene glycol esters of fatty acids (477/E477) Propylene glycol laurate Propylene glycol stearate Retinyl palmitate Rubber Grade Stearic Acid Saponified elaeis guineensis Sleareth SLES SLS Sodium cetearyl sulphate Sodium Coco Sulphate sodium cocoyl glycinate Sodium cocoyl isethionate Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS) Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye Sodium lactylate Sodium laurate Sodium laurel Sodium laureth sulfate Sodium laureth sulphate Sodium laureth-13 carboxylate Sodium lauroamphoacetate Sodium lauroyl glutamate Sodium lauroyl lactylate Sodium lauryl Sodium lauryl ether sulphate (SLES) Sodium lauryl sulfate Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate Sodium lauryl sulphate Sodium lauroyl sarcosinate Sodium myristate sodium oleyl lactylate Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate Sodium stearoyl lactylate Sodium palm kernelate Sodium palm kerneloyl isethionate Sodium palmate Sodium palmitate Sodium stearate Sodium stearoyl fumarate Sodium Stearoyl glutamate Sodium stearoyl lactylate sodium stearoyl lactylate (481/E481) Solubiliser PS20 Sorbitan Caprylate Sorbitan Cocoate Sorbitan diisostearate Sorbitan Distearate Sorbitan ester Sorbitan isotearate Sorbitan laurate Sorbitan monoglyceride Sorbitan monolaurate Sorbitan monopalmitate Sorbitan monostearate (491) Sorbitan palmitate Sorbitan sesquioleate Sorbitan trioleate Sorbitan tristearate Sorbitan tristearate (492) Sorbitan triglyceride Stearalkonium chloride Stearalkonium hectorite Stearamide MEA Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine Stearamine Oxide Steareth - 2 Steareth - 7 Steareth - 10 Steareth - 11 Steareth - 13 Steareth - 14 Steareth - 15 Steareth - 16 Steareth - 20 Steareth - 21 Steareth - 25 Steareth - 27 Steareth - 30 Steareth - 40 Steareth - 50 Steareth - 100 Stearic Acid (C18)& (570) Stearic acid (vegetable oil) Stearic Acid 50 NF Powder Stearic Acid 55% 65%, 70%, 90% Stearic acid or fatty acid (570) Stearic hydrazide Stearone Stearoxytrimethylsilane Stearoyl sarcosine Stearyl acetate Stearyl alcohol Stearyl alcohol NF Stearyl caprylate, Stearyl citrate Stearyl dimethicone Stearyl glycyrrhetinate Stearyl heptanoate Stearyl Octanoate Stearyl Stearate Stearyl tartarate Stearyltrimethylammonium Chloride Stearoyl lactic acid Stearyldimethyl amine Steartrimonium chloride Succinylated monoglycerides Sucrose esters of fatty acids (473/E473) sucrose distearate sucrose oleate sucrose tristearate Shea butter (extended) Sucrose stearate Sulphonated Methyl Esters Synthetic beeswax Taxanomic TEA-lauryl sulphate TEA-stearate Temest 2 EHC (Ethylhexyl Cocoate) Temest 2 EHP (Ethylhexyl Palmitate) Temest 2 EHS (Ethylhexyl Stearate) Temest 810 (Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride) Temest 99 (Isononyl Isononanonate) Temest ALB (C12 15 Alkyl Benzoate) Temest CTE (Cetearyl Ethylhexanoate) Temest CTN (Cetearyl Isononanoate) Temest DO (Decyl Oleate) Tetradecylocadecyl myristate Tetrasodium glutamate diacetate Tocopheryl linoleate Triacetin Triacetin (1518) Tribehenin Tricaprylin Tridecyl myristate Triisopropanolamine Triple Pressed Stearic Acid Tristearin Veg Emulse Vegetable Emulsifier Vegetable glycerine Vegetable gum (466) vegetable mono diglycerides vegetable oil Vit A Zinc myristate Zinc stearate
Find and certified-sustainable palm oil or palm oil-free replacements. And make your own too!
One of the best ways to ensure you are not supporting unsustainable palm oil is to make things yourself. That way you know exactly what is in them, plus you reduce your dependence on pre-packaged products — a bonus for less plastic consumption. They also end up costing less and being healthier usually too.
You’d be surprised what can be home-made: from ‘magnum’- type ice-creams to fabric softener, from jam tarts and ‘oreos‘, to dish soap and foundation! But I know that very few people can make everything from scratch, so getting savvy as a consumer is vital too.
Boycotting Palm Oil
If you’d like to boycott palm oil, shopping at dedicated palm-oil free stores is the easiest way to go. They have done the research already and have committed to not supporting the industry. My favourite Australian store Biome is completely palm-oil free, as are other stores and brands around the world listed on Palm Oil Investigations.
The International Palm Oil Free Certification Accreditation Programme (POFCAP) is a relatively new and the first attempt at recognised worldwide accreditation. So far POFCAP is approved to certify in 9 countries: Australia, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, Spain, Austria, Sweden & the USA. Another 9 countries have applications pending. This is their logo:
At the supermarket, a palm-oil scanner app can be helpful. RSPO an app for their certified products, and Palm Smart covers the US and Canada, and soon the UK also. I have used the POI scanner in the past which was available for Australia and New Zealand, but is not available at present. There are some others available too, but you will have to try them out to see how effective they are.
Another easy way is to support products which have their own ‘palm oil-free’ labels. Some brands like this vegan margarine have one line that is free from palm oil, which alerts you to the fact that their other lines do contain palm oil (disguised as ‘vegetable oil’). The palm-oil free products can be a little more expensive, as other oils cost more to produce.
If you’d like more help, The 28 Day Palm Oil Challenge is designed to get you into living deforestation-free within a month. It contains many recipe ideas and recommended brands for each room of the house that are free from palm oil.
And Kate of the Travel for Difference blog has a great list that she has researched in 2017, covering hundreds of products over many categories (including vitamins and pet care) that are palm-oil free.
Certified Sustainable Palm Oil
If you would like to support sustainable palm oil, keep an eye out for the following certification logos:
These are the only logos from RSPO for which you can be assured that the palm oil contained within the product is 95% or more sustainable. POI shows their other logos here, some of which refer to a smaller percentage of sustainability, or simply membership of the RSPO.
The Rainforest Alliance works with palm oil producers as well as other industries, to help them transition to sustainable growing and processing methods. Products displaying this logo come from plantations that do not clear any existing rainforest, and work in harmony with the surrounding natural resources. These plantations are audited annually against Rainforest Alliance criteria.
Lend your voice to movements urging change to the palm oil industry.
We can all get behind movements to show the big producers that we don’t want deforestation and continued harm just for the convenience of cheap oil.
If you can’t find information about your favourite product’s stance on palm oil, call or email them. Your are entitled to know as a consumer, and if they cannot provide you with a clear answer, they are very likely supporting unsustainable palm oil. You can also contact a brand you love that does contain palm oil, and express your concern about it (respectfully). The more people who do this, the more they will take notice.
You can also sign petitions with thousands of other people around the world, and share them with others too. Here are some of the biggest ones around at present:
- Greenpeace petition to Drop Dirty Palm Oil
- Rainforest Rescue petition to Keep Palm Oil out of the Peruvian Rainforest
- Change.org petition for Shoprite to Cut Conflict Palm Oil
Give your time and/or money to causes you care about
You can go a step further if you feel strongly about this issue, by volunteering or making a donation to a reputable organisation. Some suggestions I’ve come across in my research (but have not personally tried) include:
- Adopting an orangutan with WWF
- Making a donation to the Rainforest Alliance
- Volunteering with or donating to Orangutan Foundation International. OFI also hosts a couple of eco tours each year with Dr. Galdikas, a renowned primatologist.
- Cutting down a palm oil tree. You can sponsor the removal of illegally planted palm trees in Indonesia through Palm Oil Investigations and a Sumatran NGO. Each palm oil tree will be replaced with native seedlings.
Resources for kids to lean about palm oil and deforestation
- This edition of the Global Guardian Project is a great resource for children to begin learning about rainforest conservation, and includes information about palm oil.
- Ogangutan Foundation International has some educational guides about orangutans available for free.
- This short video from Greenpeace is child-friendly and a great introduction to some of the issues with palm oil production.
- The Dr Seuss book and movie “The Lorax” is an excellent introduction to environmentalism, and deforestation in particular. While it’s not referencing the palm oil industry, its message is applicable to all companies who put money ahead of ethics and the greater good. This song from the movie encapsulates it well:
I hope this post gives you a great overview of the issues with palm oil production, and ideas for what you can do about it. Please talk to others about your concerns, and share this post as well as other information you come across to keep raising awareness and promoting change. And thank you for all of your efforts to make a difference. I’d love to hear about what you’re doing or what you’re going to start on.