Palm oil is a top driver of global deforestation that can be found today in a mind-boggling array of goods. Ranging from processed foods like chips and doughnuts to cosmetic products like shampoo, lipstick, and soap; it’s estimated that half of the products on grocery store shelves contain palm oil. Unfortunately, the palm oil industry has an incredibly dark and well-documented history of environmental degradation, human rights abuses, and is pushing several animals to the brink of extinction.
Palm oil is not inherently bad, but the profitable industry is responsible for releasing tons of carbon into the atmosphere, which is the result of tropical rainforest clearing to make way for palm monoculture plantations. The effects on biodiversity have been severe, with orangutan populations cut in half in just two decades due to habitat loss.
As a consumer, here are three things to keep in mind when putting the brakes on unethical palm oil consumption:
1. If you want to avoid ingesting palm oil, simply avoid processed foods. Palm oil often winds up in cookies, crackers, chips, chocolate and frozen desserts—and if you are going to splurge on processed foods, check the label first. Don’t assume that a product is palm oil free just because it’s marketed as healthy—many vegan products contain palm oil. When in doubt, make your own treats so you know exactly what goes in them!
2. The true price of beauty is higher than you may think. Vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics do not always mean palm-free. It may be easier to go make-up free than it is to figure out what make-up brands are truly sustainable, so contact your favorite brands directly for their policy on palm oils and make an informed decision.
3. Palm oil is probably hiding in most major laundry and dish soap and other household cleaning products. Taking a zero waste approach to household hygiene is definitely the best way to avoid palm oil, but it may take time to develop a new routine and find time to make your own cleaning products. Start with replacing your cleansers with baking soda and vinegar and tackle a new product each month.
4. The palm oil industry is moving towards sustainability and several independent nonprofit organizations confer their stamp of approval to manufacturers who comply with a set of sustainability guidelines. Sounds good, right? Wrong. Much ink has been spilled over the greenwashing of RSPO, the organization responsible for setting the standards, with much of the regulation being suggested and difficult to enforce. The bottom line is that YOU MAY HAVE TO INQUIRE DIRECTLY with your brand's customer service department because there are hundreds of palm oil derivatives under different names. Make your concerns known to the companies you support; every voice counts!
How have you tried going palm-oil free? Let us know below.
You can learn more about palm oil, rainforest conservation and how to protect rainforest animals in our Brazil Learning Capsule.