What does your detergent, lip balm, chocolate bar and ice cream have in common? They most probably all contain palm oil. In fact, it is estimated that 50% of the products you use daily contain palm oil.
Palm oil is an incredibly versatile ingredient that has been used for centuries for a variety of applications. But at what cost? Discover how palm oil is harming the environment, and what you can do at home to live a greener life.
What is palm oil?
Palm oil is produced from tropical oil palm trees, which are found in warm climates such as Africa, Asia and South America. It is estimated that 50 million tonnes of palm oil are produced every year.
Edible palm oil has become increasingly popular. The majority of edible palm oil comes from the Asian region - particularly Indonesia and Malaysia.
Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm trees, and is refined and separated according to where it will be used.
Why is palm oil used?
There are many reasons why manufacturers favour palm oil in product production.
The main reason? The cheap price tag. Palm oil is one of the cheapest vegetable oils to produce, which makes it attractive for manufacturers to lower their costs of production. It also has a high melting point and contains no trans fats, which manufacturers can use as a way to advertise ‘trans-fat-free’ on their food products.
Because of its high fat nature, palm oil can also be used to moisturize and nourish - which is where palm oil ties into the beauty and cosmetic industry. Palm oil is also used as a natural preservative in products to extend the shelflife.
Due to its versatility and low cost, palm oil is one of the most exploited natural resources in the world - and barely any other vegetable oils match up.
An oil that can do absolutely everything. Sounds great right?
While palm oil production comes with an attractive price tag, the cost to the environment is extortionate.
Negatives of palm oil:
Palm oil comes with many negatives that are often not spoken about. In fact, palm oil production is increasing year by year - which needs to end to protect our environment and wildlife.
But how exactly is something as harmless as vegetable oil wrecking havoc to the environment?
Palm oil production is directly linked to deforestation. Because of high palm oil demand, more and more rainforests are being cleared out everyday in order to make room for palm oil plantations.
Let’s try to quantify just how much palm oil leads to deforestation. The World Wildlife Fund has calculated that every hour, a forest area of approximately 300 football fields are cleared for palm oil production.
Deforestation is a massive contributor of climate change and disrupting biodiversity. A significant amount of gases are released due to the burning of timber and forests every hour to make way for palm trees.
Animals that naturally live in the tropical habitats that are cleared for palm oil production are forced to flee their homes. During this process, many animals are often killed or injured - causing a risk of animal extinction if we do not stop.
With the current palm oil production rate, orangutans, Sumatran tigers and leopards face the risk of extinction.
Not only does deforestation contribute to climate change, producing palm oil in refineries releases millions of tons of carbon emissions. In Indonesia alone, approximately 270 million tons of carbon emissions were generated from palm oil manufacturing in less than 10 years.
With a time where fighting climate change is so urgent, palm oil production should be significantly reduced in order to lower its threat on the world.
Choosing palm oil-free products:
As much as palm oil has snuck its way into our daily products, we can take measures to avoid it and choose sustainable options.
Look out for palm oil variations on ingredient lists, including palm kernel, palmate, palmitate, palm olein, stearic acid and stearate. Even better, look for products with minimal ingredients. That way you ensure that you are getting the most natural product possible, without the risk of manufacturers sneaking in palm oil under a different name.Choosing everyday alternatives that are palm-oil-free will help you take eco-friendly measures at home without a large compromise. As palm oil is incredibly damaging the environment, it is now more important than ever to act together to reduce its negative effects on our planet.