Problems with ‘sustainable’ palm oil and why All Naturals soaps and cosmetics are Palm Oil Free?
Palm oil is used in all sorts of everyday products, from shampoo and chocolate to eco- fuel; Yes, diesel is blended with palm oil and named – Eco-Diesel or Bio-Diesel. Unbelievably, the EU Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation requires that petrol in your car is blended with ethanol made from wine, barley and sugar beets, and that diesel fuel is blended with rapeseed or palm oil. It’s been disastrous for the world’s forests. Here are several not-so-fun facts about ‘certified sustainable palm oil, which is often anything but.
Our research shows quite unequivocally that, unfortunately, there is no way to produce sustainable palm oil that did not come from deforestation, and that the claims by corporations, certification schemes and non-government organisations are simply ‘greenwashing’, useful to continue business as usual. No shortcuts: if we use palm oil, certified or not, we are definitely destroying tropical forests.
Based on forest loss trends, if governments do not act immediately and end acceptance of certification schemes, the world will almost completely lose southeast Asian forests in a few decades.
Every tropical tree, which is part of a complex tropical forest, harbours thousands of other species – insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, birds, monkeys, primates such as orangutans, ferns, mosses – and every time a tropical tree is cut to make room for a plantation a whole community, often including very rare species, may disappear.
We accused those who say certified plantations are sustainable of hiding the evidence.
According to the study, which was published in the Science of the Total Environment journal, there is a trick to “certification”: first, an old-growth tropical forest is cut (or slashed-and-burned) for paper and pulp or valuable tropical timber trades; then a traditional, non-certified palm oil plantation is started; after a certain time, the traditional plantation is “transformed” into a certified one and wins a sustainability label.
Chances are you’ve heard of palm oil, and you know it has a pretty bad reputation. But what is palm oil – and why are people so up in arms?
- Palm oil is cheap – and we’re using way too much of it
Palm oil is a vegetable oil – like sunflower or olive oil. It’s made from the fruit of oil palm trees – Elaeis Guineensis – which come from West Africa but were taken to Southeast Asia in the 1960s. Palm oil can be produced sustainably – but a lot of it isn’t.
Palm oil is great for big food and cosmetics companies because it’s cheap and versatile. It’s used in many of the things we use or eat every day: shampoo, bread, toothpaste, detergent and even snacks and chocolate bars.
Not only do roughly half of the processed goods in the supermarket contain palm oil, but millions of tonnes of palm oil are going into the tanks of people’s cars. More than 60% of palm oil coming into Europe is for biofuel.
- Palm oil is a major cause of forest destruction
The palm oil industry has been a disaster for the world’s forests, wildlife and climate. Palm oil is mostly grown in Indonesia and Malaysia, two tropical countries with large areas of rainforest home to tigers, orangutans and other species that are found nowhere else on earth.
The problem escalated in the last 15 years and there is no need for a globalised production of this cheap oil in unnecessary products. If the conservation of tropical forest is a priority of our society, then there is no way to produce palm oil for the world market as we show in our research. Tropical forests have an inner value, independently of the economy of their production.
Palm oil companies have been destroying these rainforests because they want more land to grow oil palm trees.
Around 24 million hectares of rainforest were destroyed in Indonesia between 1990 and 2015, according to official figures from the Indonesian government. That’s an area the size of the UK. Palm oil and paper companies are the main causes of this destruction.
- Palm oil is devastating the world’s wildlife
Destroying forests and replacing them with palm oil plantations wipes out critical habitat for animals that have nowhere else to go. Half of the Bornean orangutan population has been wiped out in just 16 years.
More than three-quarters of Indonesia’s Tesso Nilo national park, home to tigers, orangutans and elephants, has been converted into illegal palm oil plantations.
Globally, 193 critically endangered, threatened and vulnerable species are threatened by palm oil production.
- ‘Certified sustainable’ palm oil is a con
The implication is that there is no reason for companies to claim sustainable palm oil and to use labels for certified products because, in terms of deforestation, there is no significant difference between a certified and a non-certified palm oil plantation. Both need (or needed in the recent past) the complete removal of the original tropical forest.
In 2004, the palm oil industry set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). RSPO members have their palm oil ‘certified sustainable’ and brands using this palm oil get to claim that their palm oil is ‘sustainable’.
Most supermarkets in the UK and many consumer brands like Nestlé, Boots and Mondelez use RSPO palm oil in their products.
But the RSPO is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. It took 14 years for the RSPO to ban its members from destroying forests – which it finally did in November 2018. It still hasn’t enforced this new rule – and RSPO members are still destroying forests and getting away with it.
RSPO members were right at the centre of Indonesia’s 2015 forest fires crisis. This year, the fires returned – and roughly three-quarters of the fires linked to palm oil companies were on RSPO members’ land. This means that so-called ‘sustainable’ palm oil growers are – in some cases – at the forefront of Indonesia’s environmental crisis.
- Brands have broken their promise to end deforestation for palm oil
Back in 2010, some of the world’s biggest brands promised to protect forests and clean up the palm oil industry by 2020. That’s over a year ago – and companies are miles away from ending deforestation for palm oil.
Many still don’t even know where their palm oil comes from. In fact, there’s no way for brands to tell how much forest is being destroyed to supply them with cheap palm oil.
Brands have broken their promise to clean up the palm oil industry. To save Indonesia’s rainforests brands have to use less palm oil – and any palm oil they do use must come from suppliers that are 100% deforestation-free.