It came to my attention not that long ago (sometimes I’m very behind in these things) that palm oil is one of the world’s largest ongoing environmental disasters and the primary destructive force behind the rapid extinction of the orangutan. The good news is, each and every one of us can help put a stop to it.
In order to plant palm trees that produce oil-rich seeds, virgin rain forest in Indonesia, Sumatra and Borneo is clear cut. What remains is burned. This sounds bad at the outset, when you just think about the trees, but much worse when you think about the animals that live there, including orangutans. They are the world’s largest tree-living primate, spending 90 percent of their time in the branches and not on the ground. Their homes are cut down, and they are subsequently killed by hand or by fire. Hundreds of orangutans are slaughtered this way and dozens of babies orphaned each month, leaving us with a bleak 62,000 left in the world. It is estimated that they will be extinct in under 20 years at our current rate of palm oil consumption and planting. The orangutans are the biggest loser in this proposition, but many other animals are also dying from loss of habitat, fire and outright killing, including Sumatran Tigers, Sumatran Rhinos, Pygmy Elephants and Bornean Red Carnivores.
The palm oil industry presents other environmental problems including air pollution, and according to PalmOilAction.org, “This year Indonesia will be included in the Guinness Book of Records as the country which pursues the highest annual rate of deforestation. Currently an area of forest equal to 300 soccer fields is being destroyed every hour in the country.” Three hundred soccer fields every hour is a hard thing for me to get my head around, but it’s enough to make me read my ingredients before I buy.
That’s the sneaky thing about palm oil – we are often unaware it’s in our products, from cosmetics, to food to biofuel. We all heard about the two girl scouts, Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen, who made news by asking Kellogg Company, the makers of Girl Scout Cookies, to stop using palm oil in its famous brand; and I found several great resources full of information on other products using palm oil:
Other Ingredient Names Used to Describe Palm Oil:
- Sodium Laureth Sulphate (Can also be from coconut)
- Sodium Lauryl Sulphates (can also be from ricinus oil)
- Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
- Palm Oil Kernal
- Palm Oil in Cosmetics
- Elaeis Guineensis
- Glyceryl Stearate
- Stearic Acid
- Chemicals containing palm oil
- Steareth -2
- Steareth -20
- Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
- Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (coconut and/or palm)
- Hydrated palm glycerides
- Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye (derived from vegetable stearic acid)
- Cetyl palmitate and octyl palmitate (and anything with palmitate at the end) 
Next: List of Products with Palm Oil