Well oiled

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From the snappily named ‘stearamidopropyldimethylamine’ to plain old ‘palmate’, palm oil appears in our food under a number of guises. In fact, around 50% of everyday goods contain it, and it’s a staple ingredient in many processed and packaged foods.

But are all these names hiding the real truth about palm oil: that it is a significant cause of deforestation and a serious threat to the survival of various species, such as the orangutang?

Challenge yourself to get informed and aim for snacks which contain sustainable palm oil, or no palm oil at all.



For people

Palm oil is higher in saturated fat than other types of vegetable oil, containing 6.7 grams of saturated fat in every tablespoon, compared to 1.9 grams in olive oil, and 1 gram in canola oil. Eating a diet high in saturated fats is linked to causing high cholesterol, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease.

While palm oil production does create jobs and opportunities for many poor communities, it has also been the cause of many land disputes, with reports of displaced communities and illegal land grabs. In some cases, the expansion of plantations has led to forest-dwelling peoples being forced out of their homes.

For planet

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of greenhouse gas-absorbing trees are cleared each year to make way for oil palm trees (Elaeis guineensis), and the fires which are often used to clear the land are a major source of CO2 pollution, turning up the heat on the global thermostat.

Many rare and endangered species are being forced out of their natural habitats by the planting of oil palm plantations. In Indonesia and Malaysia, which together account for 85% of the world’s palm oil production, the orangutan population is under severe threat of extinction. The Orangutan Project estimates that over 6,000 of the orange apes are lost every year. 80% of orangutan's habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years


You don’t need to boycott palm oil altogether. It seems to be hidden in almost everything we buy, so cutting it out completely would be tricky. Here are some tips on how to make your palm oil consumption more sustainable:

1. Responsible Palm Oil: choose products that only use certified sustainable palm oil (which is grown responsibly and with consideration for the environment and local communities). Look out for the RSPO or Green Palm labels, thankfully they’re becoming more and more common.

2. Do your research: check out WWF's Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard to find out how your favourite brands measure up in their commitment to ending deforestation.

3. Use your voice: write to companies asking that they commit to using sustainable palm oil, and encourage others to do the same. Every voice counts!

4. Palm oil free: while it might be hard to find palm-oil free products, there are some out there: Ethical Consumer have compiled a decent list.

5. Break it down: given that palm oil is found in everything from shampoo to chocolate, completely cutting it out in one fell swoop can be daunting and, well, unrealistic. Break your pledge down into manageable chunks - each week or month focusing on a different area of shopping: snacks; cleaning products; beauty products etc.