What is Palm Oil?

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees. These trees are grown in palm oil plantations, which are devastating the country of Indonesia. These plantations are a big contributor to the critical endangerment of wild orangutans. 

Palm oil is traded around the world and is used in nearly half of all of the items that we buy. This includes items we can find throughout our own homes, such as: lipstick, lotion, and packaged foods!

Palm Fruit Photo courtesy of: World Bank Photo Collection

What is Happening?

Around 85% of all palm oil is grown in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea. Due to its high demand, the many palm oil plantations have caused severe damage to the environments, forest people, orangutans, and the climate.

Indonesia has lost nearly 100 million acres of the rainforest during the rainforest destruction that occurred during the leadership of Indonesia’s former president Suharto. Soon after Suharto’s reign ended in 1998, illegal logging of the forests grew even faster.

A 2007 United Nations report found that illegal logging occurred in 37 of Indonesia’s 41 national parks. These researchers believe that at the current rate of rainforest destruction, these forests could be wiped out as soon as 2022. 

Palm Oil Deforestation

“Avoiding palm oil could have worse effects because it might take support away from companies that are trying hard to improve the situation. This could encourage companies to use other products that may have even more impact on the environment. Palm oil is by far the most efficient vegetable oil to grow as it takes less land to produce than other vegetable oils. Palm oil can be produced in a responsible manner that respects the environment and the communities where it is commonly grown.“ – World Wildlife Fund

Photos of the Tripa Rainforest

The Tripa Rainforest was once beautiful and lush home to wild orangutans. This rainforest is just one of many in which illegal fires were set in the area, contributing to the deforestation of Indonesia. These photos are of the Tripa Rainforest burning, one of many illegal fires that have been set in the area.

Palm Oil Products

Palm oil-based products are often called the following names:

  • Cetyl Palmitate and Octyl Palmitate
  • Elaeis Guineensis (Taxonomic name for palm oil)
  • Hexadecylic or Palmitic Acid
  • Hydrated Palm Glycerides
  • Palm Oil Kernal
  • Palmate
  • Palmitate
  • Anything with Palmitate at the end*

Likely to be Palm Oil

  • Cetearyl Alcohol
  • Emulsifier 422, 430-36, 470-8, 481-483, 493-5
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylaye
  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphates
  • Steareth – 2 & Steareth – 20
  • Stearic Acid Vegetable Oil

Palm Oil Scavenger Hunt

Click here to go to our free palm oil scavenger hunt activity where you can go around your own home and find out what items in your home might have palm oil!