A Society Addicted to Palm Oil?

We eat it, we shower with it, we clean with it and we drive with it. Palm Oil is a primary ingredient used in every other food. Nevertheless, it is included in more products than you would think, because food is not the only product that contains Palm Oil. You can find it in our cosmetics, in shampoo, in cleaning products and of course in fuels. Actually, Palm Oil has become an essential part in our lives, without us noticing it. It is pretty cheap for the companies and you can use it for various things. However, considering how dependent we are of it, and how much of it we consume every day, we need to be aware that it is destroying the rainforest incredibly fast.  

Fruit of the Oil Palm

First of all, I want to explain briefly why Palm Oil is so popular. One advantage of Palm Oil is that it’s harvested all year and it yields 4-10 times more oil per hectare than other oilseed crops, including soybean and canola. Another advantage is that it is remarkably versatile, therefore it is used for so many products. Half of the products on the average supermarket shelf contain Palm Oil or ingredients derived from it. Actually, this doesn’t sound very bad. If I tell you now that the Palm Oil itself is not the enemy, you may be surprised. The actual problem is the amount that is grown, where it is grown and how it is grown.

Six months ago, one of the biggest forest fires of the century destroyed millions of hectares of beautiful, tropical rainforest in Indonesia. Maybe you ask yourself now why I start talking about Indonesia and the dramatic rainforest destructions there. The point is, it seems like a faraway issue, but it is simply not. These hectares of rainforest got burnt down because a few years later there will be a huge palm oil plantation at the exact same spot. Since Palm Oil only grows in tropical regions, the two most important countries for Palm Oil are Indonesia and Malaysia. With the deforestation, we not only harm the climate but also a great number of animal species. Some species are even in danger of extinction, due to the extermination of living space. These deforestations are due to our life style, and if everyone of us changes their shopping list only a little, we can change something essential in our world. We must take responsibility to what we have done to our nature through Palm Oil consumption.

As I said before, Palm Oil has got an important part in our lives since there is Palm Oil in almost every product we buy. Still, it is not unavoidable in the most products. There are quite a few simple things every one of us can do to reduce the immense Palm Oil consumption. First of all, we can in general look that we consume more products with sunflower or rape oil. Another option for avoiding Palm Oil is buying less things in the supermarket and more fresh food. After all, before the Palm Oil Boom in the 80s the people could easily live without it. Last but not least I want to say that buying organic products can help too, because even if they contain Palm Oil they often contain a more sustainable Palm Oil and normally smaller organic enterprises care more about where the Palm Oil comes from than the big concerns. Still, only because it is organic doesn’t mean it is Palm Oil free, just better than conventional products.

Talking about more sustainable Palm Oil, there are quite a few initiatives that try to make Palm Oil more sustainable. One example is the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), which was established by WWF in cooperation with companies of the Palm Oil industry. RSPO gets criticized by many environmental organizations because they reproach them for greenwashing. This means they just act as if they were very sustainable but are simply not as “green” as they say they are. Many people have the opinion that they don’t have strict enough guidelines and allow too many pesticides in the Palm Oil cultivation. In my opinion these critics sound very reasonable. However, I think it is a step in the right direction because they at least think about the topic and discuss it. Nevertheless, RSPO is one of the most important certifications for Palm Oil, since 20 percent of the whole Palm Oil industry in the world is certified. Of course, there are other certifications as well like the RA (Rainforest Alliance) and other organizations, but none of them are as influential as RSPO.

In my eyes, the best to do is to avoid as many products as possible that contain Palm Oil, sustainable or not. We all know that this will not change the world right away, but I think we have a responsibility as a consumer. With every product we buy we support some kind of industry. And that is what makes every individual consumer of us a powerful person. We can decide on our own what we want to buy and thus what the industry should produce. Big companies always produce what the people want, so what gets bought the most. If we start buying more products without Palm Oil, the Industry will eventually get the message that they should maybe change something in their production.

These are my Sources:


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