The Problem with Palm Oil
Zero Waste Lifestyle
May 10, 2016 | Kathryn Kellogg
Last Updated on April 3, 2020
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 foei.org
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 huffingtonpost.com
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 huffingtonpost.com
50 million tons of palm oil is produced annually. It makes up 30% of the world’s vegetable oil in products.
In 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
- 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.
Was that eye opening?
what can I do?
Being zero waste definitely has advantages because it eliminates a lot things in packaging.
And, while bulk bins still have some things with palm oil – ratio wise, it’s a lot less.
A zero waste diet focuses mostly on eating whole, fresh foods which don’t contain palm oil. So, if packaging weren’t enough to keep you away from processed foods, maybe destroying the rainforest might give you a little extra incentive?
Now, things get even more tricky because if we were to switch to another kind of oil, it would create even MORE deforestation and have a more negative impact than palm oil.
So one of the best things you can do is reduce the amount of processed foods you eat.
Like with all things on my blog, just cutting back on these things will make a huge impact!
Buy it 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: eia-international.org
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!
Wow,I knew palm oil was bad, but I wasn’t aware of the extent of it. I recently started making my own Nutella, it takes less than 10 minutes and is far more delicious (and healthier!) My kids love it! I’m also experimenting with homemade soap (that you can use for almost anything) and cream. It really does take so little time to prep and is so rewarding, I think everybody should try it!
It’s amazing how easy it is to make so many of the things we buy packaged! It’s just balancing it properly to avoid burnout.
This is a good article! Thank you for that.
In our family it is definitely Nutella! But when the actual glass is empty, I am going to make my own.
I am a clean-eating maniac and there is very few processed food that enters my house 😉
I have my lush shampoo bar and my home-made all purpose moisturizer. Only for make-up and sun-protection I haven’t found a reasonable alternative yet – other than wearing no make-up and sun-protection with clothes and hats.
Gros bisou from Belgium
It’s super easy! I’ll share a recipe soon. I’d look for a better alternative for sun protection. But, it’s definitely necessary. Something can’t be comprised on and health is one of them! There are several beauty companies that don’t use palm oil. I’d look into RMS and Kaejer Weiss.
Hi Sandra, just out of interest which Lush shampoo bar do you use? I don’t know where you’re based so it might be different where you are to here in the UK, but Lush were the first brand I used when I switched to shampoo bars before discovering they all contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate which (I didn’t know until I read this post) is a type of palm oil, and also just generally something worth considering avoiding for both health and environmental reasons (although it’s not as bad as Sodium Laureth Sulfate). I realised a vast number of Lush’s products contain SLS and have stopped using them now as I don’t really trust their branding anymore.
I’m talks with Lush currently. I know they’re actively trying to switch. So, at least some good news!
That’s great to hear! I’ve always loved Lush so was really disappointed when I looked further into their ingredients. Plus, of course, they are zero waste.
Thanks for the post, Kathryn. I read some articles last year about how land is cleared for the palm oil plantations by setting everything on fire and sometimes they end up with entirely out of control wildfires. It doesn’t get much worse than that. So I usually check the ingredient list when buying food but hadn’t thought to check what’s in the few personal care products I still purchase. It looks like at least one of them does contain palm oil! Time for another swap.
Yes, it’s so sad about the fires. I think that’s why they’re covering the orangutan’s nose in the picture to try and help him not inhale smoke. It’s crazy how many personal care items have it!
I don’t use much stuff that contains palm oil anymore by virtue of going zero waste, but there are some brands that have distressed me and when I’ve gone looking there are a lot of brands that acknowledge the presence of palm oil in their foods but state that they are committed to "sustainable" palm oil (for example, Good Soap from Whole Foods claims its palm oil is sustainable). I haven’t found a definitive answer to how sustainable "sustainable" palm oil actually is, however. Do you have any thoughts on sustainable palm oil? Is it possible or is it just greenwashing? I’m totally in favor of avoiding it – it is just so hard to keep track of at times! The poor orangutans make me so sad. 🙁
I think there is a sustainable way to grow anything. It boils down to your trust in the company, and whether or not they’re telling you the truth. You can always ask! Just do the best you can. It’s not about perfection; it’s about making better choices. 🙂
I would love to know the recipe for Nutella as it’s the only product I’m consuming on the list. Though I only buy 1 kg nutella a year…but that’s too much already
Noted! I will share it soon along with some successful peanut butter cups. 🙂
This is such an important topic – I’m glad you’ve provided such a comprehensive piece. I will be sharing it far and wide 😉
This is so important. I have friends who are vegan but they rely on loads of products containing palm oil, or substitutes for honey that are highly processed and have run up thousands of air miles to reach them… I much prefer my mostly vegetarian diet with as many local products as possible. It’s really really hard to avoid products containing palm oil and now I check things more carefully I’ve had to give up on a few favourites and make more things myself.
I only recently found out about Nutella, and still finishing the last lot off – it’s really hard to do things in bulk when you’re a single person household! There are lots of recipes for things like that on Pinterest, for all the people asking.
I’m furious with the Body Shop and Lush – I buy from them because of my strong belief in sustainability and it was hard to find out that palm oil exists under different names and is in so many beauty products (I recently read a similar list to yours when I was checking a blog for non animal tested products)…. grrr!
Thanks for this article! I have been doing a lot of research over the past year to try and make sure I live my life by my values and I always appreciate it when I come accross a post that answers my questions in a comprehensive and yet simple way.
Wow. I knew it wasn’t good for you, but I had no idea it was also bad for the environment. We have so many food intolerances that we don’t buy most of the products listed, but I’m sad to see the soap I was so excited to find package free on the list! Thank you for the eye opener.
Great post which I am off to share and pin. What I find so worrying though is how little so many people know about palm oil and its devastating effect on out environment. I also get so angry when I see more and more products containing palm oil when it was not there before … so why add it now – especially those who otherwise purport to be zero waste, organic etc?
Hey there! I just read ur problem with palm oil post, its really an eye opener, thnx for sharing this . I didnt knw before that there are such problms also, thnx again. Appreciate your thoughts n helping others too …
My partner sent me your blog on Palm Oil. Which was an interesting read. Especially the part where you expound the virtues of boycotting. Something was niggling me throughout the whole read. Then it suddenly hit me. During the whole time I was reading your blog I was being bombarded by a large ad banner (20% of the screen) showing me Estee Lauder products. This realisation, of how you may have unwittingly been used to promote the very thing that you are trying to prevent, sparked an interesting debate between me and my partner. One theory that I floated, was if you were to earn from advertising space, does it undermine (slightly) your credibility. I also expanded on this theory by suggesting that you may unintetionally be doing more harm than good. This is because you seem to be offering your followers a conscious soothing solution, that allows them to ignore the full extent of their cumulative contribution, not just to global warming but also global poverty. This is because we are in a global economy, and corporations have their fingers in many pies. I suspect that you are smart enough to know that when we join all the dots, the truth is most of us have blood on our hands.
I guess doing ‘something’ is better than nothing, right?
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"Armchair Revolutionary" made a concerned query and your response comes off as defensive and dismissive. You might have started with, "Thank you for your concern".
You’re doing your part by informing the public which is such a noble endeavor that I and countless others appreciate. We really do!
"Armchair Revolutionary" too is doing their part questioning what seems like an apparent contradiction.
Wow. I’m really glad I read this. I was looking at the ingredients in a highly acclaimed deodorant, and saw palm oil, so i decided to look it up. I already know that any vegetable oil is bad for you, so I avoid it as much as possible, but what I was reading is that it’s really great for the skin. I was thinking about adding it to some of my diy beauty products… until I read this. And now, it’s definitely out of the question.
Do you know which natural oils are rich in vitamin e? This was one of the reasons I was invested in the palm oil.
Also, could it be possible that similar occurrences happen with the making of other natural ingredients? For example, Shea butter is made from the Shea nuts in Africa. Do producers kill forests to make way for Shea producing trees?
This was a great read. I have been curious about the different names palm oil has been listed as, so thank you for making a list!
That picture of the orangutan being rescued is a heart string puller.
One of the biggest ones I see in the Zero Wasre movements is Dr. Bronner’s castille soap!! Couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that on the ingredients. And Urban Decay that advertises as a cruelty-free product! 🙁
Wow….extremely extremely eye-opening. This post hurt my heart. Thank you tremendously for this post. I started seeing reviews online asking whether certain products contain palm oil so I had automatically assumed it was bad, but now I truly know why. Thank you again for the information.