When purchasing products, most of us want to make decisions that not only support our own health, but that are also the right thing to do for the planet, too. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to understand exactly what’s inside the products we buy.
Palm oil is an ingredient that many of us are increasingly choosing to avoid. That’s because, despite being safe for consumption, the impacts of producing it are incredibly damaging to our environment.
Palm oil is collected from oil palm trees, with the global supply now coming from around 42 countries. The production process is a major cause of deforestation in some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, and is destroying the habitats of already endangered species.
If you are keen to do your bit in reducing this devastation, here are three things to keep in mind to help you make conscious choices when it comes to selecting products for your home or family.
1. Palm oil is in approximately 50% of products in New Zealand
Because of its versatility, palm oil appears in many products that you might not have even considered. It is smooth in texture, and therefore used in a huge and diverse range of products - from snack bars, biscuits and dairy spreads, to shampoo, soap and detergents.
The number of products that include palm oil is concerning when you learn just how devastating production is to animals like the orangutan, elephant and tiger. In the last 20 years alone, over 3.5 million hectares of Indonesian and Malaysian forest has been destroyed in order to produce palm oil, taking with it around 80% of the world’s orangutan habitat. We’re losing over 6000 beautiful orangutans a year, and there are now only 400 Sumatran tigers left on the planet. These are statistics that are too scary to ignore!
2. It’s likely in more packaged food than you realise
The trouble is, you may not even be able to spot palm oil on packaging. There are no requirements for manufacturers to disclose palm oil specifically on product labels, and you’ll usually see it included in an ingredients list as a generic ‘vegetable oil’.
Some brands will be explicit about whether they have chosen not to use palm oil in their products, so it can help to research their stance. The Orangutan Alliance also has a certification programme, and you’ll often see products include a certification logo on their packaging to indicate their exclusion of palm oil.
As palm oil is higher in saturated fat (something we’re encouraged to limit) than other vegetable oils, comparing saturated fat content of one product against another could be another way of determining whether a product may include palm oil. It is possible for palm oil to come from sustainably grown plantations - if palm oil is listed, do your research to find out whether it has come from sustainable production.
3. It’s not just in food
When thinking about how we can reduce our consumption of palm oil, it’s not only food we need to consider. Palm oil also appears in many personal care and household products. Body washes, skin care, makeup and even toothpaste can all contain palm oil - but luckily, not all! Grin is one product that is proudly palm oil-free, opting instead to use 100% pure glycerine from soybean and/or rapeseed, or lauryl glucoside, derived from coconut.
Again, check the label when selecting products off the shelf.
Supporting palm oil-free products does make a difference. Every time you take the time to check a label and choose a product that does not include palm oil, you’re doing your bit to conserve our environment, and the endangered species that call it home!