The Sad Truth We All Need to Know
When you think of ‘palm oil’, chances are an image of an orangutan in a rainforest pops into your mind. And yes, while the adorable ape is the face of the palm oil crisis, it’s just one part of a much wider issue — one that puts the environment, animals and society itself at danger. Here, Aware Environmental gives us the lowdown on palm oil.
So what exactly is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil derived from the African oil palm tree. It is a primary ingredient in many manufactured foods, and its derivatives are used in common cosmetics, cleaning and laundry products. Highly productive and cheap to produce, it has rapidly become the first choice for manufacturers to use in a vast array of consumer products.
Each year, tens of millions of kilograms of palm oil is produced — accounting for 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. The oil palm tree originated in Western Africa, but can grow wherever there’s heat and rainfall. Today, 85% of all palm oil is exported from Indonesia and Malaysia, but it is also grown throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America.
Palm oil is found in most packaged supermarket food — think chips, lollies, baked goods, breakfast cereal and even butter and margarine! Under the current legislation, palm oil doesn’t have to be disclosed on food labels. It can simply be referred to as ‘vegetable oil.’ However, manufacturers do have to declare the amount of saturated fat in the product if they use palm oil. This makes it easier for consumers to spot palm oil and make an informed decision.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for other products containing palm oil. Palm oil is found in 30-40% of household cleaning and laundry products, as well as things like cosmetics and toothpaste. But due to the lack of labelling, you wouldn’t even know you were using it!
What’s so bad about palm oil?
You may be wondering why everyone is kicking up a storm about palm oil. There’s a few reasons! The problem with palm oil is the scale of its production and the impact it has on the environment, wildlife and communities.
Firstly, there’s its devastating impact on the environment. Palm oil is extremely unsustainable to grow and produce. The production of palm oil often comes at the cost of cutting down rainforests. Deforestation emits a huge amount of smoke into the atmosphere, and the quick and easy clearing of rainforest and vegetation through slashing and burning has become a major contributor to climate change.
- It is estimated that over 300 football fields of rainforest are destroyed every hour to make way for palm oil plantations!
The widespread deforestation has forced many species to the brink of extinction, including endangered and critically endangered species such as elephants, rhinos, tigers and orangutans.
- The United Nation’s Environmental Program (UNEP) predicts that most of Indonesia’s rainforest could be destroyed by 2022.
- Extinction in the wild is likely in the next 10 years for Sumatran Orangutans and soon after the Borneo Orangutans – WWF.
- One third of all mammal species in Indonesia are currently endangered, due to losing their homes in the deforestation process.
- In Borneo and Sumatra, an estimated 1000 to 5000 orangutans are killed each year for the development of palm oil.
The development of palm oil doesn’t just affect animals. It has also been linked to major human rights violations, including child labour and the mistreatment of Indigenous communities. As a food ingredient, it’s also extremely high in saturated fat – which can contribute to cardiovascular disease.
As primary forest and vegetation are cleared to accommodate growing global demand for palm oil, endangered species and local communities are being severely compromised. Indigenous peoples and communities are also deprived of their livelihoods and essential ecosystem services such as water and nutrient-rich soil.
The ethical approach
At Aware Environmental, our commitment to ending the palm oil crisis is at the core of everything we do. We became one of the first manufacturers in Australia to remove palm oil derived ingredients from our products.
We mainly use coconut oil based ingredients in our products – even though this costs more to manufacture – because the harvesting of coconuts has for centuries been a sustainable industry that supports island communities. These island communities have an excess supply of coconut oil and by using this more environmentally sustainable source, we hope to weaken the demand for palm oil.
Benefits of using Coconut derived ingredients:
- Many of the plantations have been in existence for centuries and are now underused as the world has switched to palm oil. Rather than waste the existing resource, these coconuts are now finding some use by replacing palm oil.
- Coconut plantations are generally grown on very poor, sandy coastal soils and don’t need wholesale slashing of virgin rainforests to grow. A local sustainable industry existed right throughout the Pacific and South East Asian, before the advent of major palm oil plantations.
Of course, coconut production wouldn’t be sustainable if everyone switched to coconut oil, however, if we cannot slow the demand for palm oil soon, there may not be rainforests left by 2022 (as predicted by the United Nations). While it may not be practical for all manufacturers to adopt alternatives to palm oil derived ingredients, we hope consumers concerned about the future of our rainforests and subsequent loss of habitat will support our efforts.
We committed to the use of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) in 2010 but discovered that the derivatives we were using at the time couldn’t be sourced sustainably with any confidence in Australia. Much of CSPO was combined with non-sustainable palm oil and sold, at best, as ‘containing’ sustainable palm oil. Thorough investigation we felt we had no choice but to move away from palm oil use completely.
We are passionate about inspiring people to make educated, conscious and informed decisions when choosing cleaning and skincare products. Palm oil is a very complicated issue but unfortunately it’s also an ecological emergency. Make sure you do your own research – question suppliers about where they source their raw materials.
Use sites or apps like Palm Oil Investigators http://www.palmoilinvestigationsapp.com/ Current Australian labelling laws don’t require manufacturers to explicitly label palm oil ingredients in their products. Commonly, palm oil is instead labelled as “vegetable oil”. It is impossible for Australians to know which products contain palm oil unless they learn about common palm oil ingredients. The issue gets more complex when looking at manufacturers using ingredients that are derivatives of palm oil or palm kernel oil – such as those used in cleaning or laundry products. We encourage you to always read the product labelling when making your everyday purchases, never stop asking questions and whenever you can, choose palm oil free.
Not only are Aware Environmental’s products palm oil free, they’re also naturally derived, vegan, cruelty-free and aren’t tested on animals. We have four cleaning and laundry product brands that are proudly made in Australia —
We have also recently launched our sister skincare company, Australian Skin Laboratory. Our first range, Naked Bean, offers an environmentally-friendly alternative to coffee-based skincare products.
Aware Environmental have recently announced their corporate partnership with The Orangutan Project, an organisation dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and re-release of orangutans in Indonesia. This is a topic that is close to our hearts and we aim to contribute to their great cause.
To find out more about what we do, visit www.awareenvironmental.com.au.