Nutella, Oreos, peanut butter…what do all of these things have in common? Yes they are tasty, but they contain an ingredient that is leading to the destruction of forests and, in effect, harming many animals (including the orangutan population) that inhabit these forests. The culprit is palm oil. I first learned about palm oil in 6th grade when my friend’s mother, who is currently a professor of geography and environment. I remember staring at her in disbelief as she told me that my favorite cookies, Oreos, contributes to the destruction of forestry. Now of course my 6th grade self didn’t quite comprehend the fact that animals lived in these forest and to be honest I loved Oreos so I tried to push the thought in the back of my mind. Fast forward and now I am in college. I became plagued with the inability to eat healthy in a stressful environment this past year. So I generally would reach for Oreos, Nutella, peanut butter, instant noodles, and ice cream in order to quickly satisfy myself. However, as I munched on my Oreos while attempting to finish my Organic Chemistry homework, I was still haunted by the repercussions of my snacking habits. With summer vacation in full swing I became more conscious of my eating habits and, out of curiosity, I decided to do some research on palm oil.
Malaysia and Indonesia, home to numerous species of plants and animals, are the leading producers of palm oil. “The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that during the period 1990–2005, 55%–59% of oil palm expansion in Malaysia, and at least 56% of that in Indonesia occurred at the expense of forests” (Koh and Wilcove). Palm oil is the most popular vegetable oil used in products such as foods and cosmetics; approximately 50% of everyday products contain palm oil (“Palm Oil”). Some everyday products that you probably have somewhere in your household that may contain palm oil are shampoo, soap, makeup, cookies, and chocolate. The main issues with palm oil is that its production results in the emission of excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, a facilitator in climate change (yes it is a real thing), and the destruction of forestry that leads to the loss of habitats for many animals (“Palm Oil”). The loss of biodiversity and climate change are hard to reverse and ultimately will effect posterity unless change is enforced. Another element of palm oil production and distribution that completely baffled me is that manufacturers typically hide their use of palm oil by listing the oil under a different name on their products. Some names include cetyl ricinoleate and sodium laureth sulfate (your shampoo probably contains this). For the full list of alternate names for palm oil click here.
While this blog post is only a brief discussion of the damaging effects of palm oil (there are many articles and websites that go into great depth), it is intended to quickly point out that the issue is real and encourage the boycott of products containing palm oil.