Can Palm Oil Be More Sustainable?
Palm oil is considered one of the most damaging agricultural commodities because it is a significant driver of deforestation and depletes biodiversity.
Is it possible to make it sustainable? Short answer, yes. It may not become good for the environment, but we can at least lessen its negative effects.
In this article, we’ll learn all about palm oil, the impacts of palm oil, if it’s possible to make it sustainable, and more.
About Palm Oil
Palm oil is one of the most widely consumed vegetable oils in the world today.
Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm tree. This plant produces fruits containing oil seeds, which can be pressed into liquid form and turned into edible oil.
Palm oil is extracted from the mesocarp (the edible portion) of the fruit. That makes it edible as well.
Palm oil is used in many different ways. It’s commonly found in cosmetics, baked goods, and processed foods. Palm oil is also used in biodiesel fuel production.
There are two main types of palm oil: crude palm oil and refined palm oil.
Crude palm oil is unrefined and has a strong taste and smell. Refined palm oil is processed to remove some of the natural flavours and smells. This makes it suitable for use in foods and cosmetics.
Refined Palm Oil is come from refining crude palm oil.
What’s The Issue With Palm Oil?
Palm oil use causes deforestation and natural habitat destruction. Deforestation leads to climate change and desertification. Climate change affects biodiversity.
The controversy surrounding palm oil stems from the fact that it’s grown on land that’s been cleared of forests. This makes palm oil production a major contributor to global warming.
Forests absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, keeping the air clean. When trees are cut down, less oxygen gets put into the atmosphere. Deforestation also leads to erosion and soil loss, which affects water quality.
Aside from the actual loss of forest, the method used to clear trees is also harmful. They can use peat fires which can cause haze and contribute to climate change.
Aside from environmental sustainability, it also has issues with social conflict. The land used for the palm oil plantations can have effects on the indigenous communities living around the area. There are also problems with palm oil farm employees exploitation.
Can We Just Use Different Oils Instead of Palm Oil?
Basically, even with its adverse effects on our environment, palm oil is still a more efficient crop than other vegetable oil crops.
It’s more cost-effective because it costs less to grow than other oils like olive oil and sunflower oil.
It also doesn’t require as much land, energy, fertilizers and pesticides.
So if this is the case, palm oil is still a slightly better option for us. But, is there any way we can improve its sustainability?
Can Palm Oil Be Sustainable?
The palm plantation itself is not the problem. It’s the practices around the industry that are causing most of the harm. So if the growers can find a way to improve their productivity while practising sustainability, sustainable palm oil is possible.
Can Palm Oil Be Produced Without Affecting Biodiversity?
Scientists are focusing on increasing yields while using less land. Many companies are also opting for more sustainable oil palm production practices.
But, it’s impossible to produce palm oil with zero effects on the environment and biodiversity. What we can do is work hard to lessen its effects or make up for it.
How Can Palm Oil Be More Sustainable?
Palm oil could become much better for the environment if producers work together to develop improved methods for more sustainable production.
For example, many farmers use slash-and-burn agriculture, where they burn down tropical forests to grow crops. Unfortunately, this method of farming leads to soil erosion and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
And while the production of palm oil does contribute to deforestation, the process itself isn’t necessarily environmentally damaging. Instead, the real issue lies in the amount of land needed to produce enough palm oil to meet global demand.
If palm oil companies worked together to reduce the area needed for tonnes of palm oil, it could help protect tropical forests and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Growers and manufacturing companies need to work with communities and develop new practices that will lessen the effects of the production. It can be supporting the smallholder farmers and smallholder plantations, finding a way to work around the forest and natural forest species, and supporting the local workforce. They need to ensure basic rights and human rights.
Consumers can also support this agenda by only using sustainable palm oil. If consumer boycott palm oil or non-sustainable palm oil, it will force manufacturers to also change their production model to a more sustainable one.
Scientists have already been working on increasing crop productivity with biotechnology so that more oil can be produced on less land.
There should also be a collaboration between governments, oil palm plantations, and consumers alike to avoid abuses on oil palm and make sure the palm oil imports are sustainable.
We mentioned that consumers should support sustainable palm oil. To do that, you need to know if a product has palm oil which can be tricky because there are several terms that are used for different variations of palm oil.
Other Terms Used For Palm Oil
- Elaeis guineensis
- Etyl palmitate
- Hydrogenated palm glycerides
- Octyl palmitate
- Palm fruit oil
- Palm kernel
- Palm kernel oil
- Palm stearine
- Palmitic acid
- Palmitoyl oxostearamide
- Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3
- Palmityl alcohol
- Sodium kernelate
- Sodium Laureth sulfate
- Sodium lauryl lactylate/sulphate
- Sodium lauryl sulfate
- Sodium palm kernelate
- Stearic acid
- Vegetable fat
- Vegetable oil
Products That Contain Palm Oil
You learned from the list above what to check, but where? What consumer products contain palm oil? No worries, we got that too.
Here’s a list of common items that usually contain palm oil.
- Pizza Dough
- Instant noodles
- Chocolate/ Chocolate Spread
- Ice cream
- Packaged Bread
- Face Wash
- Packaged Pastries
- Soy Milk
- Peanut Butter
- Vegan Cheese
- Baby Formula
What Is RSPO?
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was created to help ensure the highest standards and sustainability commitments to palm oil production. It is a certification for suppliers.
This means that companies must meet strict environmental requirements, including protecting forests and peatlands from destruction and ensuring that workers receive fair wages and working conditions.
The RSPO certification assures that the palm oil production standard is sustainable.
How Does RSPO Certification Work?
Palm oil certification is a complex system that involves multiple parties throughout the supply chain. That includes growers and companies that process palm oil (refining, processing, and transformation)
To qualify for RSPO certification, a plantation must meet strict criteria regarding environmental protection, labour practices, and social responsibility. It must meet the best class among standards for sustainable palm oil production.
In addition, the plantation must pass audits conducted by auditors.
Once the oil reaches the end user, it becomes part of the product label, which explains what type of sustainable palm oil it contains.
Four Types Of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO)
Certified palm oils will have an RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil logo.
Identity Preserved (IP)
Palm oil from a single plantation so consumers can trace where it came from.
Palm oil made from combined products of multiple certified plantations
Mass Balanced (MB)
Palm oil made from a mix of certified and non-certified plantations.
Book & Claim (B&C)
Manufacturers are not required to purchase physical CSPO to get this certificate. Instead, they can purchase ‘RSPO Credits’ in an online marketplace to claim sustainability credentials. These sales funds help farmers implement sustainable farming practices.
Palm oil has become a very common ingredient in our food supply despite the environmental impact of the palm oil industry.
At the end of the day, it is an efficient crop that we use a lot. It’s an active ingredient and controversial ingredient in many types of food products and household items. There is palm oil from your favourite soap, chocolate to cookies.
The good news is that there are several ways to reduce the negative impacts of the palm oil sector through sustainable practices.