Palming off palm oil
Sophie Porteous explores how unsustainable palm oil really is
Sustainability has certainly become a massive topic of discussion over the last few years. From the reduction of our plastic consumption to people giving up fast fashion, the efforts to become eco-friendly are infiltrating our lifestyles.
Saving the planet is no mean feat. I have started trying to make more eco conscious decisions; using solid soap, shampoo and conditioner bars, using reusable cotton pads and making sure I recycle everything properly. In 2018 I truly realised what an impact we are making on the planet when I watched the 2018 Iceland advert (banned from TV for being too political). The advert, depicting an orangutang explaining to a girl the destructive effect that palm oil production has had on their home, moved me to tears. From that moment on I was determined to try and minimise the impact that I had on the environment, starting with cutting out palm oil. I know that trying to live sustainably can be tricky; the amount of information and advice that is so readily available can sometimes become overwhelming. Plus, like most things, making sustainable choices is a complex issue.
The production of palm oil often leads to deforestation. This can destroy ecosystems and endanger the protected animals and biodiversity that were once sheltered in untouched forest. Furthermore, creation of some palm oil plants has even been responsible for forcibly displacing people from their land. Not only does producing palm oil negatively impact animals, but it can also impact the human life in the surrounding area. Poor treatment of workers has also been found in these plants.
Although cutting out palm oil entirely may seem like the best option, there are many people who depend on the production of palm oil to make a living. In Indonesia and Malaysia alone a total of 4.5 million people earn their living from palm oil production. Although they can be mistreated, the production of palm oil and the jobs it creates can be reducing poverty levels in the countries where production is most rife. Furthermore, producing palm oil is more efficient than many other vegetable oils. If palm oil was replaced by soy bean or coconut oil for example, it would require between four and 10 times more land to farm, expanding the issue to other areas. Additionally, palm oil offers numerous qualities that cannot be matched by other oils, meaning that getting rid of it would change the quality of the product. Through boycotting products and brands that use palm oil, we can place pressure on industries to make more sustainable choices, but it is clear there could still be negative impacts of this. It is therefore important to at least try and use brands that use sustainable palm oil. This in itself can be tricky
Palm oil can be found everywhere: in food, in makeup and in hygiene products. Said to be found in 50% of supermarket products, it can be extremely hard to decipher what palm oil is ‘good’ and what should be avoided.
Derivatives of palm oil are the basis for a lot of cosmetic products, and these can be difficult to spot. The RSPO was set up to help work out what products are sustainable, and currently 19 per cent of palm oil is certified by the RSPO. I know that trying to live sustainably can be tricky. So how can you know that your products are produced using sustainable palm oil?
Food: I firstly recommend the app Giki. This allows you to scan items in supermarkets and quickly see the impact that they have, whether that be if they use sustainable palm oil, as well as whether the brand actively use less packaging and many other important issues that can surround food production.
Furthermore, Iceland have pledged that all of their own-brand products are palm oil free – perhaps the real reasons why mums go to Iceland.
Hygiene: Ethique is a brilliant eco-friendly company. Having pledged to use no palm oil until the industry is sustainable, you can buy hair, face, body and even pet cleaning products safe in the knowledge that no rainforests were harmed in their production.
Lush also no longer uses palm oil in their products, however some of their products still contain palm oil derivates. They have posted a list of these derivatives on their website to make it easier for you to know what your product contains.
Makeup: Axiology is, in their words, ‘100 per cent evil free’. All of their products are completely palm oil free and involve no animal testing. Originally created to produce lipsticks, they now sell products that can be used on lips, eyes and cheeks so you can look good and know you’re doing the planet good too.
Although it can feel difficult to live sustainably, and the multiple ways in which we are damaging our plant can seem completely overwhelming, there are definitely small steps we can all take to try and help our planet.