While you rarely ever hear of anyone cooking with palm oil at home, companies love adding it to all manner of products, from toothpaste to taco shells. Why? Because it's dirt cheap! But the money you save on your shopping bill comes at a hefty environmental cost.
Experts estimate that if virgin rain forest in Indonesia and Malaysia continues to be cleared to make way for palm oil plantations at the current rate (300 football pitches per hour), the Sumatran Tiger could become extinct within 3-5 years and Orangutans within 10 years. And the lack of transparency and true accountability by the bodies that govern the palm oil industry, such as the RSPO, make any claims at sustainability feel like nothing more than green-washing.
Thankfully, new EU legislation requires that palm oil be listed on ingredients labels, not merely hidden behind the ambiguous term "vegetable oil." However, in cosmetics, many ingredients are palm derivatives and thus aren't obviously linked to palm oil (to become better versed in these, download our handy pocket guide).
If you're looking to be truly animal-friendly and cruelty-free, you might want to double-check the labels on these common household products:
1) Peanut butter. You'd think that peanut butter would contain peanut oil, but temptingly cheap palm oil is often the second ingredient you'll see listed.
Also check: Crisp, biscuit, chocolate, and packet noodle soup labels. Sadly, we've had to give up one of our favourites: Nutella.
What can you do? Meridian Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter has only 1 ingredient: peanuts!
2) Butter alternatives. Flora, which claims to be "powered by plants," is unfortunately powered by palm oil. And they're not the only butter alternative to go the cheap and environmentally destructive route.
Especially deceptive are the Pure brand spreads with names like "Sunflower Spread," Avocado Spread" and "Soya Spread," all of which contain palm oil.
Also check: Vegetable lard and creamy dressings.
What can you do? Make your own palm oil-free vegan spread.
3) Soap. Palm oil is one of the most popular oils used in soap-making because not only is it cheap, it also creates a stable, bubbly lather. You'll often find palm oil in organic, vegan, and other products that claim to be environmentally-friendly. Some major brands have removed palm oil from their soap bases, but you'll still find it lurking in their liquid soaps, scrubs, masks and other products in the form of SLSs, polysorbates, PEGs and other ubiquitous emulsifiers.
Also check: To be honest, palm oil-free liquid soaps, shampoos and conditioners are so rare, it's almost not even worth checking!
What can you do? Have a browse through Etsy! You'll find a huge selection of high quality palm-free bar soaps. Bloomtown Botanicals is proud to make 100% palm oil-free bar soap and offer one of the few palm-free pump soaps on the market... plus we're hard at work developing even more exciting palm oil-free options for bath, body and home:)
4) Candles. "Plant wax" can be code for "palm wax," again because it's a cheaper alternative to beeswax and soy.
Also check: Wax melts
What can you do? Make sure to double check with manufacturers and companies, as specific plant wax sources aren't always listed on candle labels.
5) Cosmetics and Toiletries. Lotions, creams and many other skin care products require a plant wax emulsifier that binds water to oil to create a stable product. And, you guessed it, palm-derived emulsifiers are the norm! Even olive-derived emulsifiers use palm oil in the manufacturing process. Sometimes these sources will be listed by the manufacturer as "coconut or palm"; sadly, we've seen many businesses choose to list only coconut as the source, when the reality is they can't possibly know due to the severe lack of transparency in the supply chain.
What can you do? Write to your favourite brands. Tell them why it's important to you that they switch to truly sustainable ingredients. Ultimately, it's pressure from consumers like you that urge companies to make positive, sweeping changes.
And a bonus shocker: Sneaky fish and chips shops are apparently frying up their fish in palm oil. Give your local chippy a ring to find out if they've gone over to the dark side, too, and if they have, give them a piece of your mind! Politely, of course.
Good news: At Bloomtown Botanicals, we've sourced an ethical, palm oil-free emulsifying wax, so stay tuned for exciting new and cutting edge eco-friendly products to come!