We Know Palm Oil Is Bad, But What About Palm Oil Waste?
If you’ve already scratched palmate, palm oil kernel, hydrated palm glycerides and anything with palmitate off your shopping list, now you have another consumer decision to consider.
What role will palm oil waste advances and technologies play in your consumption habits?
Traditional Palm Oil Waste
In a chapter entitled “The Oil Palm Wastes in Malaysia,” N. Abdullah and F. Sulaiman explain how palm oil waste was typically burned in the open. However, the Malaysian government intervened and discouraged open burning because the practice “causes air pollution.” According to the authors, the government’s efforts to curtail open burning practices haven’t been 100 percent successful. If palm waste isn’t burned, then it is used “for mulching and as fertiliser [sic].” However, many growers are reluctant to use palm waste fertilizer because of the “oil palm pests” that follow.
Palm Oil Waste Innovations
These are three recent alternative developments in palm oil waste management. While it’s still early, it is important to learn about these advances because these products (or their by-products) might trickle down to your everyday life.
1. The Pulp Green Tech Holding (PGT) reports that it has created a quality paper pulp from empty palm fruit bunches, or leftover waste from the palm oil extraction phase.
Sustainable Brands cites that the company estimates that 95 percent, or 300 million tons, of the empty palm fruit bunches is currently being thrown away. PGT promotes their technology as “‘highly profitable and green.’”
2. As Science Daily reports , the empty fruit bunches from the palm oil extraction process are ”lignocellulose-rich by-product[s]” that can be converted to “industrially useful lactic acid.”
Jin Chuan Wu, along with the team at the A*STAR Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences, found that his newly discovered bacterial strain of L-lactic acid is a much more inexpensive alternative to the present cornstarch production.
3. As reported in BioMass Magazine, NextFuels is looking to convert palm oil waste to “drop-in coal and petroleum replacements” for advanced biofuel production. NextFuels explains that, unlike current biofuel production practices, their technology can process “wet biomass.” The company is looking to expand quickly, both in facilities and partnerships with palm oil producers. NextFuels claims that “its commercial-scale facilities are expected to produce approximately 1,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.”
You can expect more types of innovations, too. As The Guardian highlights, “The market for palm oil has softened greatly – supply now exceeds demand.” Something needs to happen to that excessive supply and its excessive waste — cue more alternative inventions for every part of the palm. The money needs to come from somewhere, right?
Green Expert Says
In a 2014 Q&A with The Wall Street Journal, John Sauven, the director of Greenpeace UK, explained Greenpeace’s perspective on reaching a “truce” with the Asia Pulp and Paper (APP).
When asked about the “truce” between Greenpeace and APP, Sauven replied:
We’re and environmental organization. We want to protect the environment. We’re not out to destroy business. We’re out to create a system where people protect the natural environment and also the interests of local people.
Palm Oil Waste Dilemma
Palm waste innovations can put some conscious consumers in a dilemma. While palm oil waste management advances are inextricably linked to and profit from the palm oil industry, they can also make better use of the existing waste (e.g., avoiding air pollution).
Are we palming sustainability off if we support these new palm oil waste technologies? After all, these new advances come at the cost of human, animal and environmental exploitation.
Or are the alternatives better than the traditional waste management systems, and should consumers encourage these companies to act more sustainably and green? Since the palm oil industry isn’t going anywhere, should we take a cue from Sauven and work to create a better system that benefits everyone?
Photo Credit: Glenn Hurowitz