How Palm Oil Damages the Environment and Why You Should Care

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It can be a bit fatiguing, to learn about everything we do and use on a daily basis that harms the environment. It’s a lot – sometimes it can seem like there’s nothing we can keep if we want to be responsible global citizens.

There are plenty of alternatives, though, and some problems are too big to ignore, and there are a few arguments that palm oil is one of them.

There are all kinds of vegetable oils available at the store – olive (which I guess is actually a fruit), vegetable oil, canola oil, palm oil – as well as oils from seeds.


Palm oil isn’t as popular as a cooking oil as the others, but with its high saturated fat content, and it’s complete lack of trans fats, make it popular with food manufacturers, according to a Guardian report.

“In the 1960s, scientists began to warn that butter’s high saturated fat content may increase the risk of heart disease. Food manufacturers, including the British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever, began to replace it with margarine, made with vegetable oils low in saturated fat.”

Oil palm trees are prevalent in Southeast Asia, where they were transplanted from their native West Africa in the mid-19th century.

Now, the region exports over 75% of the world’s palm oil, which is used in thousands of packaged foods and by big-name brands like Luna, Pepperidge Farm, Little Debbie, McDonald’s, and Quaker. Two-thirds of all palm oil goes into food.

Manufacturers like it because it gives foods like chocolate, cookies, and ice cream a smooth, creamy texture – there’s a good chance it’s also lurking in your sliced bread.


You’ll also find it in soaps and lipsticks, says The Guardian.

“Unlike other oils, it can be easily  and inexpensively ‘fractionated’ – separated into oils of different consistencies – which disposes it to multiple uses.”

The fact that it holds color, it doesn’t melt at high temperatures, and is completely tasteless doesn’t hurt, either.

It’s easy to see why businesses and consumers love palm oil, but according to the World Wildlife Fund, there are far more reasons to cut way back on its production and use.

“Palm oil grows in tropical rainforests, and the uncontrolled clearing of these forests for conventional palm oil plantations has led to widespread loss of these irreplaceable and biodiverse-rich forests.”

Between the years of 1990 and 2008, palm oil production was responsible for 8% of the world’s deforestation.


Palm oil plantations also steal habitat from many endangered species, like Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos, and orangutans. The tigers, in particular, have dwindled to just 400 animals in the wild.

In 2003, the World Wildlife fund established a group called the “Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil” with the goal of encouraging the industry to work together to find ways to stop the production from damaging important ecosystems. The European Union joined the fight in 2013, changing their labeling laws so that concerned consumers can easily choose products that don’t contain palm oil.


If you’re moved to do the same, there are consumer sites like Products Without Palm Oil that can help you make good choices on the products you buy, from food and coffee to personal are items. There are plenty of companies who make delicious products without using palm oil, thank goodness, and I was personally most relieved to see Ben & Jerry’s on that list.

A world without Half Baked is not a world I want to see, although I suppose I could have done it for the tigers.

Carole Baskin would be so proud.