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close up of oil palm fruit bunches in an oil palm tree

Palm Oil: What You Need to Know and What You Can Do

January 07, 2021 3 Comments

There’s an oil that’s taken over the global manufacturing market and is sneaking into pretty much anything you can think of.

Yep, you guessed it… palm oil.

Palm oil is a huge industry globally and has quickly become the most produced vegetable oil in the world. Because of its cheap price, stability and ease of use, it’s become a staple in so many of our household products.

It’s used in everything from foods (like ice cream, cookies, instant noodles and even 'health foods') to personal care products (like skincare, shampoos and soaps) to cleaning products and biodiesel. It can be difficult to grasp just how big this billion-dollar industry is, and it requires some serious effort to avoid it.

But even so, it’s a crucial time to start choosing with our dollars. While the industry is booming now, it’s not sustainable to keep up with the current demand. In the years to come, more rainforests will have been destroyed, more animals displaced and killed and more workers exploited, and we’ll have nothing to show for it. 

But the question will remain, “Why didn’t we do something sooner?”

Palm oil is something we’re extremely passionate about here at Mayella, so to help you get all the information you need to make an informed choice, we’re here to demystify some key parts for you.


oil palm fruit being squeezed of oil into a bowl of palm oil with a oil palm fruit cut in half inside it


What is palm oil?

Palm oil is the oil that is created from the flesh of the fruit of oil palm trees. There is also palm kernel oil which is oil made from the seed inside the fruit.

While both come from the same fruit and tree, palm oil from the fruit's flesh is what we’re referring to, this is the one that has a high demand and ends up in many products. That’s not to say that palm kernel oil isn’t problematic, but simply that palm oil is the one that’s sought after by big companies.

Here are five main reasons that we believe it's time to say goodbye to palm oil...

Palm oil can have misleading and deceptive labelling

What many people might not realise is that there are over 200 names that can be used to label palm oil on a product plus there is 5x that number of ingredients derived from palm oil.  

Palm oil is a building-block in manufacturing 1000 synthetic compounds made through chemical reactions–and once an ingredient has been altered artificially, it is identified by its chemical name, not its source. 
- Biome: How Palm Oil is Hidden in the World’s Most Glamorous Lipsticks


So while a company may avoid palm oil as it is, if it uses one of the 1000-odd chemical compounds that are made from it, they can still label their products as vegan, cruelty-free, animal-friendly and, yes, palm oil-free.

And because of the minimal transparency around the ingredient in foods, we're not given the correct information to the products we're purchasing and eating. For people who are trying to avoid or minimise saturated fats, labels become difficult to decode. On the other hand, butter, coconut oil and other fats can also have high levels of saturated fats, but they are labelled correctly so consumers can make their own informed choices.

 

close up of a baby orang utan with its mother's hand touching it


Sustainable palm oil is little more than greenwashing

As consumers we’re becoming really informed about the effects of palm oil on the environment, so to counter our concerns, companies are now claiming the use of “sustainable palm oil”.

Sustainable palm oil is when new oil palms are planted in the areas that have already been cleared, so there is no further deforestation.

While that sounds good in theory, there are a few main problems with this idea.

While the forests have already been destroyed, it doesn’t mean that it needs to stay that way. By planting more oil palms only to get more fruit and more oil, reforestation will never happen and habitats will never be restored.

The other side is our current demand is outweighing the sustainability of production. So knowing that we will never be able to keep up with this demand, we need to act on regenerating the rainforests, creating new habitats for animals and letting the ecosystems heal.

"If tighter, stronger guidelines for sustainable palm oil are not introduced we could see the collapse of the world’s tropical rainforests ecosystems."
Orangutan Alliance


small bown of palm oil surrounded by oil palm fruit and a plastic bottle filled with palm oil


Palm oil is not healthy for us, despite the claims

Palm oil used in food manufacturing has been said to be ‘better than trans fats’ and ‘full of antioxidants’. While those may be true, it still doesn’t make it a healthy oil.

Most people that are concerned for their health already avoid processed and packaged food that is high in trans fats, so the bar is already set low if that’s what we’re trying to beat! There are plenty of available oils are better than trans fats. And we can get antioxidants and vitamins from products that have no negative health effects like palm oil does (like our organic nutritional blends and capsules!).

As a fat, palm oil has a tendency to be difficult to break down within digestive processes. It contains a high amount of saturated fats which can lead to boost bad LDL cholesterol. And because of palm oil’s many names that we discussed above, it’s difficult to know if it’s present in our foods, making it not only a health concern but also an ethical one.

But there’s another health aspect that isn’t as widely spoken about…

Palm oil production is also a human rights health issue

Originally as oil palms grew in the rainforest naturally, they were organic. However, with the huge growth in demand, they now get sprayed with chemical fertilisers and pesticides to encourage more growth and maximise yield.

While these no doubt poison the soil and can be passed on to the food, the bigger problem is the workers who are tasked to do these jobs, spraying herbicides (like paraquat which is so toxic it has been banned in parts of Europe) without adequate protective equipment. Because of the workers' close exposure to these poisons, directly on their skin and in their lungs, many suffer health issues that they cannot afford to heal.

Knowing this, any health claims of the oil are diminished. How can we command our own health using a product that causes so much harm to another?

forest that has been cleared ready for new plantations of oil palms


It has caused, and continues to cause, environmental and community devastation

Environmentally, palm oil plantations render the soil acidic and infertile for years after the trees stop producing crops. The oil palm farms have taken over and destroyed millions of hectares of land, forests and precious habitats. Globally palm oil production is affecting at least 193 threatened species, including orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos, to name a few.

Thriving rainforests are cleared to make way for oil palm plantations, which erases a huge number of trees that currently absorb our carbon dioxide. On top of that, the burning of the rainforests releases extra CO2 into the atmosphere. In terms of global warming, this is a nightmare.

Add to that the subproblems of violence, slavery and sexual abuse in the communities that are surrounded by, or grow around, the oil palm plantations and you start to see the larger picture of how problematic this product is. 

Tropical deforestation accounts for 15% of total global warming pollution annually. Forests are one of the world’s major natural carbon sinks, meaning their health is essential in mitigating climate change. When the trees are cleared or burned this releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Non-sustainable palm oil production is destroying carbon-rich tropical forests and peatlands making it a significant contributor to global warming.
- Orangutan Alliance

 

container of Mayella Rooibos Chai on a woven placemat with the Orangutan Alliance certification on the image

 

As you can see, the question of using palm oil in our products is a clear no. We are committed to creating products that use only the best ingredients and without causing harm to another person, community, animal or the planet.

We currently have 12 products (with more to come) certified through Orangutan Alliance which is a not for profit organisation ensuring the protection of endangered species and their habitats.

For us, the certification is more than simply showing people we don’t use the ingredient. By continuing our certifications we also support Orangutan Alliance's mission in protecting endangered species and restoring their habitats, as well as helping manufacturers make the switch away from palm oil.

So much damage has been done, and there’s a lot of work to do. But we're up for the challenge.

If you want to be a part of the solution, feel free to head to Orangutan Alliance to view all the certified products, sign up for their palm oil-free subscription box (this makes a great gift!) or donate directly. You can also start emailing your favourite companies that are using palm oil or its directives. They won't feel called to make the switch until we put more pressure on them.

And as an industry, there is a need for a rapid, instant move away from the dominating production of palm oil to protect wildlife, ecosystems and precious habitats.

As an ingredient, there are many alternatives to palm oil without the ethical, environmental or health issues.

The rape and pillage of our planet has to stop, and saying goodbye to palm oil is the first step.

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pinterest image of a baby orang utan eating with its mother behindpinterest image of oil palm fruit bunches in an oil palm tree



3 Responses

Irena
Irena

January 14, 2021

Woahhhhh 😧 I had no idea the scale of the industry!!! This is soo informative!! Thank you for bringing it up!

Jo
Jo

January 11, 2021

Thank you for your transparency & ethical business. I 100% agree we need to put more pressure on businesses destroying our communities, home, & planet and be more conscious of our spending. I love that you have certified products by the Orangutan Alliance – I will make sure to purchase some and support you and this not-for-profit.

Kagi
Kagi

January 08, 2021

This is a very informative article, I personally was vaguely aware of the deep impacts of the palm oil industry, it’s very heartbreaking to also learn about the negative impacts it has on the environment, the animals and people who work there. Thank you for sharing this.

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