Sodium palm kernelate. Elaeis guineensis. Etyl palmitate. These common terms found in the ingredients list of many of our favourite products are also sneaky names for the infamous palm oil. As we mindlessly fill our baskets with supermarket products, we often find ourselves with a palmful of problematic products.
Palm oil, a vegetable oil extracted from the palm fruit, is used in food, cosmetics and household products. It also accounts for a significant proportion of biofuel in many places, such as Thailand and the EU. The palm oil industry is very lucrative, making it a key part of the economy of our neighbours, including Malaysia and Indonesia. However, approximately 300 football fields of tropical rainforest are being cleared every hour to make way for new palm oil plantations to meet our ever-growing demand. This alarming rate of deforestation leads to a loss of biodiversity and habitats for fauna and flora. The slash-and-burn method of clearing land also causes raging forest fires across the primary peatland rainforests, leading to large amounts of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. These emissions cause transboundary haze issues that plague the Southeast Asia region regularly and that cause public health issues. Beyond environmental problems, the palm oil industry is also known for exploiting human rights, displacing people from their homes and using cheap labourers as well as child labourers.
Since palm oil brings so much concern, are there any alternatives that we can switch to? Unfortunately, palm oil is currently the world’s most efficient oil crop, capable of producing quadruple the amount of oil compared to the next most efficient oil crop (rapeseed). If we all decide to boycott palm oil, there isn’t any more sustainable option for us. Furthermore, it will affect the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on this lucrative trade.
Is there nothing we can do then? Yes, there is! We can be informed consumers and opt for products that use sustainable palm oil. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) logo is awarded to companies that fulfil a set of environmental and social criteria which ensures that the palm oil is sustainably harvested. This is the first step toward reducing the impact that we make by the continued usage of these products. Another method is to opt for eating less processed food. Processed foods typically contain palm oil to increase their aesthetic appeal. By opting for fresh produce and other foods that are not processed instead, we can significantly reduce the amount of palm oil we consume.
Through our daily life choices, we can make an impact on the environment. The issue of palm oil is critical. We are em-palm-wered to make the change we want to see, so be the change you want to see today!