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What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil grown from a type of palm tree. It is found in everything, from the food you eat, to the cleaning materials you use and the hair products which are part of your everyday routine. It is such a popular ingredient due to it producing large volumes of oil and much cheaper in comparison to many other oils such as olive oil or coconut oil.
Most of the world’s palm oil plantations are found in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Why is Palm Oil Bad?
Palm oil is a major cause of deforestation in the rainforests of countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. In order to produce the product, large areas of forest are burned, destroying the homes of many animals such as orangutans and the Sumatran rhino. Almost 80% of orangutan habitat has been destroyed in the past 20 years and we are losing around 6000 orangutans a year; all due to palm oil.
Not only this but the process of burning produces high concentration of CO2 which gets released into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
Plantations have also led to local communities being displaced from their homes which they have owned for many generations. Child labour and exploitation is also a major issue with palm oil plantations.
What can we do about this?
While palm oil can have devastating effects, it is possible to buy sustainable palm oil. The palm oil which causes all these problems is regarded as ‘dirty palm oil’ and should be avoided at all costs! Palm oil which is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) will have come from a plantation which didn’t destroy any primary rainforest, areas with high biodiversity or fragile ecosystems, or areas which are of high cultural value. RSPO palm oil also limits the use of burning and pesticides and treats employees fairly and ethically.
Why can’t we just boycott palm oil?
Firstly, boycotting palm oil would be incredibly difficult seeing as it is in over 50% of all products. Cutting out palm oil would require a shift to another oil such as rapeseed or coconut oil and that could actually be more damaging than buying sustainable palm oil. This is because palm oil produced 4-10x more oil per unit of land than any other oil type and requires far less pesticides and fertilisers. So, switching oils would mean more land would have to be destroyed and utilised. If you really want to make a difference, the best thing you can do is find alternatives which are palm oil free or make sure that any products which you are buying use certified sustainable palm oil.
Here is a great website which you can use to find out products, companies and supermarkets which are palm-oil free or leading the way in sustainable palm oil.