The Problem with Palm Oil

This isn't necessarily a zero waste topic. Today we're focusing on sustainability. Palm oil is in EVERYTHING. And, I mean everything: snacks, beauty products, cleaning products, pet food, and the list goes on. 

photo from

photo from

Even package free stuff from the bulk bins contain palm oil. As zero waste becomes more popular, there will be package free options for everything. Don't assume it's healthy or sustainable just because it's zero waste. They are not synonymous. 

I was crushed to find they swapped my favorite peanut butter cups to ones with palm oil at my local bulk store. 

what is it? 

It's an edible vegetable oil that comes from the palm fruit. Palm fruit is grown on the African oil palm tree which is originally from West Africa, but it can flourish where heat and rainfall are abundant like the Rainforest. 

photo from

photo from

why is it a problem? 

The industry causes deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, and animal cruelty. Large lots of lands and forests must be cleared to make way for these unsustainable palm oil plantations. They're clearing on average 300 football fields worth of rainforest an hour for palm oil production. This large scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction. The orangutans have 5-10 years and the sumatran tigers have less than three. 

image from

image from

50 million tons of palm oil is produced annually. It makes up 30% of the world's vegetable oil in products. If fact, it's in 50% of household products in the US, Canada, Australia, and UK. 

how do I spot it? 

It's tricky. Palm oil can be lumped in as a vegetable oil. Because, technically it is a vegetable oil. It has over thirty names in the ingredient list.

  • Vegetable Oil
  • Vegetable Fat
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (in almost everything that foams)
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) 
  • Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Palm Kernel
  • Palm Oil Kernel
  • Palm Fruit Oil
  • Palmate
  • Palmitate
  • Palmolein
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Stearic Acid
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Palmitic Acid
  • Palm Stearine
  • Palmitoyl oxostearamide
  • Palmitoyl tetrapeptide3
  • Steareth 2
  • Steareth 20
  • Sodium Kernelate
  • Sodium Palm Kernelate
  • Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate
  • Hyrated Palm Glycerides
  • Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye
  • Cetyl Palmitate
  • Octyl Palmitate
  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Palmityl Alchohol 

For more of a visual, I've made a graphic containing only a small sampling of brands and goods that include conflict palm oil. 

a list of brands, foods, beauty, and cleaning products that have palm oil in them.

Was that eye opening? 

what can I do? 

A zero waster definitely has advantages, because we don't buy anything in a package. And, while bulk bins still have somethings with palm oil - I'm going to guess, ratio wise, it's a lot less. 

Another huge advantage, most of those things aren't good for you. You should be focusing on eating more whole, fresh foods. If the packaging weren't enough to keep you away from these products, maybe destroying the rainforest might give you a little extra incentive? 

Like with all things on my blog, just cutting back on these things will make a huge impact! Buy it once or twice a year as a treat if you can't give it up completely. Start by eliminating products one at a time or look for a better switch! By switching and reducing, you can make a difference!

Remember our mantra? It's not about perfection; it's about making better choices. Now that you know what you're looking for, you can make an informed decision. 

Orangutan's being rescued from the destruction of their habitats to make way for palm oil plantations. Photo from:

Orangutan's being rescued from the destruction of their habitats to make way for palm oil plantations. Photo from:

So, many of the foods listed can easily be made from scratch and quickly. 

  • With 10 minutes of prep you can make cakes and cookies from scratch.  
  • One pot mac and cheese is crazy easy to make.
  • Make you own peanut butter by grinding up nuts, or use one of the grinders at your nearest health food store
  • Nutella is also just blending chocolate and hazelnuts - some health food stores have a grinder for that too. 

It all comes back to living more simply, living more like our grandparents. Eat whole, real, local food. Shopping your farmers market is the easiest way to know your farmer, and buy local! 

Seeeeee..... I'm just giving you more incentives to eat healthier!  Have you looked for palm oil on your labels? What's something you buy with palm oil in it that you could switch for something homemade? 

I'm definitely going to make some homemade peanut butter cups!