Sustainability seems to be the buzzword of late. For a good few years now, people have been making the shift from single-use wasteful products to ones that are better for the environment yet still practical for everyday life. Despite recent ongoing efforts, sustainability is still a concept that we need to strive towards to help our planet and preserve it for future generations. In this blog post, I am going to discuss Palm oil, the problems that were behind manufacturing as well as the ongoing work on positive solutions that have been implemented during the last few years enabling the production of sustainable palm oil. I’ll also cover what we can do as consumers to support producers and farmers.
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WHAT IS BEHIND PALM OIL?
To get the bigger picture, it is necessary to be aware of the oil itself. So, what is Palm Oil? Palm Oil is one of the most widely used vegetable oils in the world. The Palm Oil process involves taking the oil palm fruit to make Palm Oil. In its natural state, the oil palm resembles an olive with a hard stone core and creamy flesh. The manufacturing process of Palm Oil takes the fruit, sterilises it, deactivates the enzymes and then presses it.
Despite the oil palm being a natural resource, the process can be harmful to the environment. But why? There is a great demand for palm oil across the globe. To meet this demand, the cultivation area for oil palms has increased dramatically. Oil palms only grow in tropical environments and herein lies the issue.
To meet growing demands, large areas of the rainforest are cut down for their cultivation. In doing so, greenhouse gas emissions are released through slash and burn which isn’t sustainable or good for the environment.
Biodiversity is suffering and the deforestation of rainforests is causing considerable ecological and social problems in the producing countries. Factor in that millions of hectares of cleared forest are done so illegally, the issue seems more pressing.
Oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia recruit workers from the poorest countries in the region. These workers are usually migrants from areas such as Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal. Workers are often underpaid and their working conditions are questionable and that is before we get onto the issue that is the land and usage rights between large companies and the local population.
Luckily NGOs, industry and governments are working together towards the production of sustainable palm oil. HERE is an example of how a sustainable production of palm oil can go hand in hand with the conservation of the rainforest and the orangutan.
But why is Palm Oil such a valuable resource? And why is palm oil here to stay? Palm oil has many favourable properties. It is in-expensive, heat stable and easy to process. There is an increasing demand for vegetable oils and palm oil is the most efficient one: 35% of all the vegetable oils used worldwide (coconut, sunflower etc) is palm oil. And palm oil only uses 10% of all the land meant for producing vegetable oils. This is why palm oil is here to stay unless we stop using vegetable oils.
WHY WE NEED TO SEARCH FOR A SOLUTION
Did you know that palm oil is in over 50% of the products that we use every single day? It is a huge factor in our lives and finding a solution to make palm oil more sustainable is more urgent.
Buying cheap and unsustainable palm oil products lead to barriers being put up against sustainable efforts. Many people are becoming more and more aware of how palm oil is made and are looking to avoid products that don’t use sustainable palm oil.
To make sustainable palm oil part of our lives to help protect the rainforests and bring better conditions to the workers we need to come up with a solution. And every single one of us can do our part in helping enact this change.
This makes Palm Oil not only a huge factor in our lives but as well it takes the responsibility to us, the users. We need to be part of a sustainable alternative of Palm Oil. We need to come up with a solution. Palm oil is found in chocolate cream, biscuits and snacks. And as I mentioned above, palm oil is the cheapest and most widely used vegetable oil in the world.
WHY CHOOSE SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL?
A recent analysis by the environmental organization IUCN shows that banning palm oil would most likely increase the production of other oil crops to meet the demand for oil, displacing rather than halting the significant global biodiversity losses caused by palm oil. They will need 5 to 8 times larger areas of land.
Sustainably produced palm oil is key to protect the rainforests and wildlife, hence why most of the well-known conservation organizations like WWF and Solidaridad and environmental activists like Jane Goodall as well as David Attenborough are actively promoting the consumption and production of sustainable palm oil.
As consumers, we can support producers and farmers who are doing it right by buying products with CSPO. This drives positive change.
SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL FOR EUROPE
RSPO – The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has been working in recent years against the production of cheap palm oil and in bringing more sustainable palm oil to consumers. 86% of the palm oil used in Europe comes from RSPO certified sustainable sources.
Sustainable palm oil reduces the negative aspects of palm oil and is deforestation-free, protects the wildlife and takes care of its workers with a fair living wage.
GETTING TO KNOW SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS ON THE MARKET
But how can sustainably produced goods be identified and how do we know we are avoiding Palm Oil that has not been produced in a sustainable way? Since the end of 2014, according to EU law, in addition to the class designation “vegetable oil”, the list of ingredients has also required the origin of the fat to appear in the list of ingredients, i.e. “palm”, palm fat or “palm oil”. Such labelling is not required for cosmetics and detergents.
The labelling should not be confusing for a consumer and should be easy to identify whether Palm oil comes from sustainable production. Buyers are dependent on the rare voluntary labels and instructions from the provider. These are often difficult to understand. That is why The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) who promotes the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products, has developed a set of environmental and social criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). Sustainability certification prohibits the clearing of land, demands the active protection and conservation of wildlife and contributes to decent living conditions for local farmers.
Having a CSPO on products labelling makes a huge difference for the consumers, so now we can identify quicker when a product contains sustainable palm oil. Some of the brands in the UK that use a sustainable form of Palm Oil are for example Flora Plant, Jordan’s, Nutella, Warburtons as well as retailers such as M&S and Waitrose. If you see the images above, all of these products show a specific sustainable palm oil labelling or even the RSPO logo from Jordan’s packaging.
If you would like to see more examples of products with CSPO, Chester Zoo is showing HERE a detailed shopping list where you can see what brands offer 100% RSPO certified sustainable palm oil products. And you can even download their list too.
LET’S CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
To sum it up, Palm Oil itself should not be viewed as a bad factor, but rather as a concept which needs improvement. By taking a product from mother nature, we should agree on sustainability and acting environmentally friendly. By changing some of our daily habits, we can come up with a solution. We can come up with a way that connects both our needs as humans and the respect for nature and its resources. We, as consumers, have the power to change this situation by choosing sustainable palm oil. I believe that with responsible consumption, we can transform the palm oil industry.
Will you choose sustainable palm oil?
*Disclosure: Paid Partnership with EPOA
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