Sustainable Palm Oil

Sustainable Palm Oil

By Megan Barber, GroceryBuyer, Wellness Buyer, Merchandising Manager, Co-op Owner

What even is palm oil? Palm oil has been traditionally used for millennia by humans, primarily for cooking oil. Oil palm plants are grown for their red palm fruits, which are then boiled, pounded, have the fibers and shells removed, and then boiled again to produce a clear oil. Indigenous people also use the shells as a combustible fuel and weave the palm leaves into goods such as baskets and roofing material. The popularity of palm oil is also attributed to the fact that it requires roughly half the land it would take to grow other crops, such as soybeans, for oil.

Palm oil has exploded in popularity in the past decade due to its versatility as an added ingredient in products ranging from body care to foods. Since it offers added creaminess and increased viscosity to food products as well as helping skincare products retain moisturizing properties, it can be found in pizza dough, breads, peanut butter, cereal, shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning products, and so much more. It was estimated that Americans would use roughly 20 pounds of palm oil per person in 2018 (according to National Geographic) making it a household ingredient even if you haven’t intentionally added it to your shopping list.

Supplying the amount needed for consumer products and even biodiesels causes a massive impact on the environments where it is grown. Huge swaths of rainforest are flattened or burned clear to create farm fields for palm oil. Since the 1970s, over 16,000 sq. miles of land in Borneo has been logged, burned, and otherwise removed to make room for palm plants – that’s almost 50% of Borneo’s deforestation since 2000. And that’s only Borneo…

Deforestation due to clear-cutting destroys habit for many native species of animals and plants.

With deforestation comes habitat loss. This has had major impacts on endangered orangutans and other plants and animals that depend on rainforests for survival. It’s even a major contributor to global climate change. The 2015 fires that occured in Indonesia released more greenhouse gasses than the entire US economy for weeks according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step, and thankfully more people are taking notice of the ingredients in the food they bring home. Steps are being taken to; develop ways to balance farming with forests, educating farmers on how to sustainably grow palm oil, and brands are listening to consumer demands for sustainable palm oil in products. Palm oil is now key to providing income to families in the regions where it’s grown and it does replace more harmful ingredients, meaning palm oil here to stay, but happliy there are ways to grow it sustainably.

Ways you as a consumer can help make sure palm oil doesn’t have a more detrimental effect on the environment include:

Educate yourself, your family, and friends about palm oil.

Take a moment to look at the ingredients of your products to ensure that they are free of palm oil, or that certified sustainable palm oil is used.

Speak out to your government officials.

You can search for brands that source sustainable oil easily here.

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