Palm oil is an incredibily versatile oil that can be used in foods, preservatives in cosmetics and as fuel. It has fantastic shelf-life and is commonly used as a vegan replacement for dairy (cream and butter), since it is harvested from the fruits of palm trees.
Sound too good too be true? Keep reading.
The demand for palm oil has tripled over the past 20 years. In order to produce larger and larger quantities, there needs to be ground to plant palm trees on. The quick and dirty solution has been to cut down forests to make space for palm oil farms. This isn’t only a huge threat to hundreds of species living in these areas, it also significantly increases the carbon dioxide count.
One of the biggest issues with upcoming palm tree farms is in order to make the ground suitable, they have to drain waterlogged soil. This soil contains very high numbers of greenhouse gasses which are then released into the atmosphere.
Another problem is the use of palm oil in biofuels, which releases the most carbon out of any fuel used. You should, however, note that most biofuels generally release more emissions than diesel gas. This is a separate topic to be explored at another time.
Palm oil as a dairy replacement
Most people know by now that meat and dairy are some of the worst emitters in the environment (hence the rising number of vegans). I am not vegan, but often try to find vegan options regardless because the eggs and dairy used in most products violate animal rights.
However, I’ve personally noticed that in many of these the replacement for butter or cream is palm oil. A prime example are oreo cookies, which contain palm oil from a producer that doesn’t only produce it wildly unsustainably, but has also been accused of violating human rights.
So what can I buy?
The truth is that the damage of deforestation has been done, and the most sustainable way forward is to use the land that we have already made. In order to find out if palm oil is produced sustainably you should find out if it is RSPO certified. If you’d like to find out more about how they certify products you can follow this link.
On a last note, sustainable palm oil is often better for the environment than similarly produced crops, since the yield is higher per plot of land. Always do your research; you should never cancel one product in favor for another one you know nothing about!