Planet

Keep Your Sustainable Streak Strong, Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Palm Oil

By Jessica Best
7th Oct 2020

car driving through palm oil plantation in malaysia

No matter where you are on your journey to living more sustainably, talking about that old “P-word” is always a good idea. Minds out of the gutter, we’re talking about palm oil.

In the eco-friendly world, the word “palm oil” is a dirty one and for good reason too. Unfortunately, this all-purpose elixir is pretty much found in everything, which can make it pretty hard to steer clear of the stuff or know how to navigate a palm oil free way of life. Luckily for you, we’re about to give you the full breakdown.

Here’s everything you need to know about palm oil.

What Is Palm Oil?

Palm Oil comes from the fruit of oil palm trees grown only in the tropics. It’s basically an edible vegetable oil which can be produced in two ways. The first, by squeezing the fruit which makes crude palm oil; and the second, by crushing the stone in the middle of the fruit and extracting palm kernel oil.

To paint you a picture, palm oil is what water is to? the world—basically everywhere. It’s an extremely versatile oil which contains so many properties which allows it to be used in so many different ways. Yep, it’s kind of magic.

The Worldwide Wildlife Fund states palm oil is in “close to 50% of the packaged products we find in supermarkets, everything from pizza, doughnuts and chocolate, to deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and lipstick”. So, why is palm oil used in everything we hear you ask? One biggie is that it helps give various products a longer shelf life due to its ability to resist oxidation.

Why Is Palm Oil "Bad"?

Well, if you care for the rich biodiversity of the world’s forests (and you should) extracting palm oil from oil palm trees basically destroys that. Extracting palm oil unsustainably is the leading reason behind deforestation across the world which in turn accrues for the loss of native habitat for endangered species like orangutans, Asian rhinos, elephants and tigers. This large-scale devastation gets coupled with millions and millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases when carbon-rich peat soil gets converted and then also ends up damaging water streams that supply water to millions of people.

The United Nations Environment Programme states that “an area of forest equal to 300 soccer fields is being destroyed every hour”. So yeah, it very much negates the cause and fight to live more sustainable lives. 

So What Should You Do Instead?

Another great question. 

Firstly, palm oil-free products are a great place to start. Check out some of our favourite palm oil free products below:

  • This Australian-made face oil for anyone with a beard is palm oil-free and combines argan, rice bran and sweet almond oils for an easy moisturiser. 
  • This hand sanitiser works great as a surface sanitiser too and you can use the refill pouch to fill up your own spray or other bottles. Yep, also palm oil free.
  • Pana Organic’s hazelnut and chocolate spread is a moreish beast packed with cacao and sans palm oil. If it ain’t in your pantry, you’re not doing life right.
  • This calming skin oil will give you next-level peace and serenity and contains no palm oil either.
  • Nue Bar’s wash bar is an absolute hygiene staple and also works for anyone with skin sensitivities and allergies (we know we don’t need to tell you it’s palm oil free too).

If you’re keen to go out and about and search yourself for palm oil-free products, we stan, though sometimes it’ll hide behind other chemical names. Here are some words to keep an eye out for when you’re scoping the ingredients, they essentially mean palm oil:

Elaeis Guineensis
Ethyl Palmitate
Glyceryl
Hydrogenated Palm Glycerides
Octyl Palmitate
Palm Fruit Oil
Palm Kernel
Palm Kernel Oil
Palm Stearine
Palmate
Palmitate
Palmitic Acid
Palmitoyl Oxostearamide
Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3
Palmityl Alcohol
Palmolein
Sodium Kernelate
Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium Palm Kernelate
Stearate
Stearic Acid
Vegetable Fat
Vegetable Oil

What is RSPO?

It doesn’t sound like much now, but this acronym sets the standards across the world for producing sustainable palm oil (this, we like).

RSPO stands for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and it was established back in 2004 to promote production and awareness of sustainable palm oil. If a business or product has an RSPO certification then this is an assurance to you that the standard of palm oil in the product you are buying has been harvested sustainably. 

There’s a strict verification process that gets used to measure business against the RSPO standard of sustainable palm oil and all organisations in the supply chain that use RSPO certified sustainable palm oil products are audited to prevent overselling and mixing palm oil with non-sustainable oil palm products. You can look out for the RSPO trademark on the packaging of products too.

You absolutely need to scope out Greta Thunberg's new documentary too.

Image credit: Nazarizal Mohammad

Editor's note: Urban List editors independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. Urban List has affiliate partnerships, so we get revenue from your purchases.

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