Are palm oil products bad? What is palm oil and why sustainable palm oil from Ghana and Ecuador is the future
You’ll have heard a lot about palm oil on the news recently, but what is palm oil? Are palm oil products bad? And is it possible to buy sustainable palm oil products instead?
At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil and can be found in almost half of our everyday purchases. Palm oil products are found in every corner of your home, and is hidden away in shampoo, toothpaste, lipstick, and candles as well as everyday foods such as bread, chocolate and instant noodles.
Much of the palm oil we consume every day isn’t sustainable. Big brands understand that people are trying to avoid palm oil, so it’s often hidden in lists of ingredients under different names such as ‘vegetable oil’, or ‘vegetable fat’. Oil palm plantations are developed in low lying, wet, tropical areas – where rainforests and peatland grow and endangered species such as orangutans and tigers live. Clearing for oil palm plantations is devastating for wildlife, habitats, people and climate change.
The good news is we don’t have to avoid all products with palm oil. Some companies source sustainable palm oil, made with respect for the environment and local communities.
Palm oil's popularity in the manufacturing world is partly due to its high yield. Whilst sunflower oil yields 0.7 tonnes of oil per hectare (and other comparable oils result in similar figures), palm oil yields 3.8 tonnes of oil per hectare. So to acquire 1 tonne of oil, you'd need to farm far fewer palm trees and less land.*
There are areas in the world where palm trees are native, or where they’re farmed mixed cropping. These palm forests provide a home for local wildlife, and can continue to provide a major part of the economy for local people, lifting them out of poverty.
In 2013, Traidcraft joined with the Serendipalm co-operative in Ghana and Natural Habitats in Ecuador to produce Fairtrade, organic palm oil in a way that supports smallholder growers and allows the palm plants to grow naturally.
The palm plants are separated with cocoa trees and natural flora. Both Serendipalm and Natural Habitats are committed to fair trade and organic practices, and support the growers with agricultural training and health care. Neither group use any chemical nasties to increase production or reduce pests – they use organic methods and encourage the palm fruits to grow at their own pace.
We mixed together FairPalm, Fairtrade coconut oil from India, and a bouquet of natural essential oils to create Clean & Fair, the world’s first Fairtrade cleaning range. Not only does every purchase of Clean & Fair ensure that growers are paid fairly, communities are given a Fairtrade premium to spend on local initiatives and conserving the environment.
So, are palm oil products bad? They definitely can be. But by buying sustainable palm oil products like that from Ghana and Ecuador, you can help the environment and people in local communities to flourish.
*Figures from European Palm Oil Alliance, 2016