The Hidden Truth About What Is In Your Shopping Cart
It’s likely that what you cooked this morning, washed your hair with, or applied to your face in the mirror included palm oil in the ingredients. Palm oil can be found in almost everything, even the products you would least expect, like milk. Due to the cheap and extremely versatile nature of palm oil, it unarguably dominates the global market in all consumer categories. For the cosmetic industry, the oil’s natural fatty components, which are known to improve skin’s moisture retention, prove preferable for many products. For the global food industry, the plant’s significant technical utility, thanks to its high melting point and ability to be semi-solid at room temperature, provides a special attribute most favorable for baking and frying a wide variety of cuisines.
What makes palm oil even more desireable to companies in these industries is how incredibly inexpensive this almighty oil is. The fruit of the oil palm plant, which is where the oil is derived from, possesses not only a fleshy outer part but also a solid inner stone, meaning the two components can be separated for different uses, strengthening the capability for the product to be sold cheaply. Not only does palm oil possess all these significantly beneficial and natural characteristics, but they are what set palm oil apart from other oils such as soybean oil or sunflower seed oil when discussing large scale production. In short, palm oil will likely remain the most popular oil in the world as it continues to prove to be the best for virtually all products on store shelves.
Unfortunately, all that glitters is not gold. The mass production of palm oil poses an environmentally and socially devastating aspect of global consumerism. To produce palm oil in large enough quantities to meet growing demand, farmers across Southeast Asia have been clearing huge swaths of biodiverse tropical rainforest land to make room for massive palm plantations. Today, palm oil production is the largest cause of deforestation in Indonesia and other equatorial countries contributing to the dwindling expanses of tropical rainforests. 
Oil palm plants thrive in the carbon-rich soil of tropical rainforests making these regions hotspots for deforestation as an antecedent for immense palm oil cultivation. Palm production was responsible for 2 to 9 percent of worldwide emissions from tropical land use between 2000 and 2010 in the Southeastern Asia region. In Malaysia alone, the carbon stock of tropical forests can range up to 99 million kilograms of carbon per square mile. That’s equivalent to the emissions from driving an average car from New York to San Francisco and back 76 times.  Losing these carbon sinks should be of critical concern if we as a global society are to do anything about climate change.
Not only do palm plantations obliterate entire ecosystems and gravely threaten a diverse range of plant and animal species, but the human impact is crushing as well. An estimated 3.5 million people work in the palm cultivation industry, and an appalling percentage of those experience severe human rights abuses. Indigenous tribes deep in the Sumatran jungle of Indonesia, for example, have been forced off their land by plantation owners only to be forced to live a meager existence on the edges of these plantations. Often, our precious environments and people are being pushed aside in the face of profits.
All hope is not lost however. A reassuring number of companies have vowed to use only certified sustainably sourced palm oil. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) works diligently to make sure their certified palm plantations support poverty reduction, protect the environment and wildlife, and safeguard the social interests of the workers and their communities. If we all make it our duty to avoid products with dirty palm oil (oil that is produced in an unsustainable and harmful manner) and strive to consume only certified sustainable palm oil products, the industry will begin to emerge as an industry leader for the protection of our diverse rainforests and peoples. We need to collectively take a stand against the unnecessary destruction of our planet and that can start with what you simply put into your shopping basket.
For a more in depth look at the world of Palm Oil production and consumption, check out the impressive and comprehensive piece done by The Guardian here: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/ng-interactive/2014/nov/10/palm-oil-rainforest-cupboard-interactive
For a list of all the names palm oil is commonly listed as in your product’s ingredients, refer to this list:
 “Is Harvesting Palm Oil Destroying the Rainforests?” Scientific American. The Environmental Magazine, n.d. Web. 19 June 2017.
 “What’s Driving Deforestation: Palm Oil.” Union of Concerned Scientists. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 June 2017.