What do you think shampoo, margarine, shower gel, oven chips, deodorant, biscuits, bread and ice cream may all have in common? Have you heard of palm oil? 85% of global production comes from Malaysia and Indonesia. Grab an atlas or explore Google Maps, and see if you can find these countries … and whilst you’re there … can you find Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, where the big global climate conference, COP28, is being held?
You are challenged this week to become a detective!!! Head to your bathroom and see how many products you can find that contain palm oil - be warned - it’s not always easy to spot! There are over 200 different names used for labelling palm oil products, and only about 10% include the word ‘palm’! ‘Start by looking out for ‘palm’ - such as Palmate, Palmitate, Palmitic Acid, and Palm Stearine, but also keep an eye out for the words Glycerin, Stearyl Alcohol, Stearic Acid, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Vegetable Oil as these can also refer to palm oil derivatives. You can view a list of alternative names for ‘palm oil' here, and a list of everyday products containing palm oil here. Bathroom toiletries are a much-gifted Christmas pressie – check out the labels when buying presents and see below about ‘sustainable’ palm oil.
But what’s the relevance to climate change? Palm oil plantations are having a substantial impact on climate change – in two specific ways. Forest fires are often used to clear land to enable palm oil plantations to be grown, releasing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and soot into the atmosphere. In other cases peatlands are drained to make way for plantations, releasing the stored carbon into our atmosphere. This habitat loss is also threatening many endangered animal species – like orangutans, pygmy elephants and rhinos. Learn more about palm oil and orangutans.
Now here’s a tricky question - should we all stop using products containing palm oil? Well, avoiding palm oil altogether could actually encourage companies to seek other types of vegetable oils – like soybean, coconut, rapeseed or sunflower, and palm oil trees are really productive per hectare… so changing to these alternatives would need more land … and possibly therefore more deforestation and habitat loss. So ‘boycotting’ is not the answer. Choose ‘sustainable palm oil’ to help tackle these issues – seek out the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) label and HIT THE RED BUTTON when you have completed this challenge!