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12 December 2017

The environmental problem with palm oil

The world is currently bordering on witnessing the utter consequences of a significant environmental disaster. The global consumption of palm oil intensified by recent decades of commercial demand has dramatically increased production, causing catastrophic and widespread environmental destruction. Found in a vast range of commercial products, palm oil is directly linked to several environmental issues including mass deforestation, animal cruelty, habitat degradation and fragmentation, climate change, exploitation of indigenous rights, and impending extinction of certain endangered species. Without consumer awareness and objection, the effects of unsustainable palm oil will likely join the ranks of the world’s worst environmental disasters facilitated by humans. 

Over 60 million tons of palm oil is produced each year with estimations of it doubling over the next decade. With the highest rate of deforestation in the world, Indonesia is also the highest producer of palm oil, supplying over 61 percent to global markets with Malaysia following close behind. These two countries combined produce almost 90 percent of the world’s palm oil on three islands, Borneo, Sumatra and Papua. Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the African oil palm which grows rapidly in monoculture plantations in peatlands pressing at the boundaries of the last protected areas of these forests. Around 300 football fields of the world’s most biologically diverse rainforests are felled every hour for palm oil plantations, killing around 6000 orangutans, plus Sumatran tigers and many other species every year.

Australians unknowingly consume on average 10 kilograms of palm oil each year and unclear food labelling makes it hard for people to exercise their consumer choice. Palm oil is a high yield and low cost versatile ingredient used extensively in most manufactured foods, cleaning products, body care, make up and bio fuels. Currently, there is a significant ‘glossing over’ occurring in the industry where most brands are choosing to not disclose the use of palm oil on their packaging. Inadequate government labelling regulations allow brands to hide palm oil behind more than 200 alternate names such as vegetable oil, Glycerine, Plant Surfactant and Caprylic Triglyceride, making it extremely confusing for consumers to identify. While some brands claim to be cruelty free and promote everything they do not contain, palm oil is used and hidden in their formulations. 

To further complicate the issue, there is substantial greenwashing around the term ‘sustainable palm oil’ which makes 99 percent of ‘sustainable palm oil’ claims unreliable. The industry’s self-regulating body the RSPO has developed a complex certification scheme that allows non-certified oil use such as GreenPalm to be labelled ‘sustainable’. The only 100 percent certain way to know if the palm oil used in a product is sustainable is to trace it back to plantation where it was grown, and this is almost impossible. The complex supply chain, hidden nature of palm oil use, and the fuzzy certification scheme have allowed manufacturers to get away with the guise of ‘sustainable palm oil’ for too long. For this reason, it is not possible to rely on a brand's assurances that they use ‘sustainable palm oil’ because they generally have not obtained thorough and legally binding commitments from their suppliers. 

Biome is 100% free from palm oil, and no longer stocks products with palm oil derived ingredients.

What can you do?

There are five ways you can avoid products containing palm oil and help reduce the destruction caused by palm oil cultivation.

1. Avoid all products containing palm oil, including processed and packaged foods;
2. Don’t trust claims including cruelty free, organic, vegan and sustainable palm oil;
3. Check ingredients lists for Glycerine, Plant Surfactant and Caprylic Triglyceride;
4. Adopt an orangutan or donate money to BOS Australia to help purchase a large block of rainforest on Borneo; and
5. Shop for palm oil free products at Biome.

Author & Editor

Tracey Bailey is the founder of Biome Eco Stores and mother of two. After working in corporate communications and starting a family, she made a choice to be part of the solution to our planet's future and started Biome Eco Stores. Tracey is passionate about educating the community about living eco-friendly and sustainable lives through her extended product, chemical, health and environmental knowledge.


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