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What Can I do About Palm Oil?

We get asked this question all the time. The situation seems hopeless at times. Deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, threats of species extinction, disregard of indigenous land rights, exploitation of labor. The list of problems caused by oil palm cultivation goes on and on. How can one person possibly impact situations occurring halfway around the world and do we even have the right to do so? The Palm Free Council was founded to raise awareness among the American consumer of what is happening to the world’s most precious resources under the cover of “sustainable” production. We felt the American consumer is particularly unaware of the devastation that is occurring due to oil palm [...]

Interview with Sean Delaney, co-founder of Sumatra Rainforest Eco Retreat, which is a partner of the Palm Free Council

The Sumatra Rainforest Eco Retreat is a paid volunteer program providing solutions to the problems of deforestation in the jungle in North Sumatra, Indonesia. • What’s your name and role in the volunteer program? How did the volunteer program start? My name is Sean Delaney. My wife, Sue Delaney, and I started the program about 4 years ago, after visiting Sumatra on vacation. We saw a lot of poverty, and palm oil and rubber cultivation were the only options for work. After our visit we decided to start a trekking company in Bukit Lawang that included local guides and ethical tourism (i.e.-not feeding wild animals or leaving rubbish behind). We began to [...]

Raw Materials Made from Palm Oil

Below is a list of some raw materials typically made from Palm or Palm Kernel Oils. This list is not exhaustive and can change. The starred items are the only materials that currently have palm oil-free versions commercially available. Palm oil-free options are more expensive than their palm derived counterparts. Using materials that are less abundant, not grown on stolen land or with the help of child and forced labor (i.e. – more regulated), are simply going to be more expensive. You most certainly have products in your bathroom right now that indirectly support deforestation. Almost all the basic raw materials responsible for creating emulsions are made from palm oil. Shampoo, conditioner, [...]

Why is Palm Oil Used in Food, and is It Really Irreplaceable?

Characteristics of Palm Oil Palm Oil is a vegetable fat that is semi-solid at room temperature. This physical characteristic is due to the material’s high content of single bonds. Single bonds are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms and therefore described as “saturated” bonds. These saturated bonds allow the molecules in palm oil to sit stacked, one on top of the other. That ability to “stack” is what makes palm oil partially solid at room temperature. In contrast, double bonds give molecules a zigzag shape making them unable to stack on top of each other and therefore liquid at room temperature.   The high saturated bond content of palm oil provides greater oxidative stability [...]

The Eyes of Indonesia’s Future

The Volunteer Coordinator at the Sumatra Rainforest Eco Retreat is a young man by the name of Santa (pronounced sônta). The retreat is in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia which is on the Island of Sumatra and just north of the Gunung Leuser national park. The Leuser ecosystem is known to be the only place where Sumatran tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans all live together. However, current population estimates for the Sumatran Rhino are less than 100 individuals and the number of Sumatran tigers is estimated to be 400-500 animals. One of the guides who took me into the rainforest told me he was hired for a 7-day trek into Leuser in [...]

Do You Know What’s in Your Biofuel?

After food, the largest market for palm oil is biodiesel. Biofuels are transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel that are made from biomass materials. Biofuels have existed as long as cars have existed, but they started gaining popularity with rising oil prices, and growing concerns about global warming. Government mandates requiring the use of biofuels in 64 countries are what drives the biofuel market today. Ethanol is an alcohol fuel made from the sugars found in grains, while biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, fats (ie-tallow), or greases (ie-recycled restaurant grease). Biodiesel is usually sold as a blend of biodiesel and petroleum-based diesel fuel. A common blend of diesel fuel [...]

Unintended Consequences of Natural Movement

Global vegetable oil production has steadily increased over the last 30 years. This trend is largely driven by increasing wealth in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), national mandates for the use of biofuels and growing world populations. As wealth and populations grow, so does the demand for beef. An increased cattle population requires more cattle feed which is made with vegetable oils, namely soybean or palm. The positive association of biofuel with environmental responsibility, health, and sustainability has spilled over into other markets. The cosmetics and personal care, homecare, and even pet care markets have all started to market towards natural and sustainable. The popularity of the natural [...]

Malaysia’s Foreign Workforce

In Malaysia, foreign workers supply more than 20 percent of the workforce. The US State Department notes there are approximately 2 million documented migrant workers in Malaysia and estimates even more undocumented workers exist. Malaysia is the top destination for Indonesian migrant workers. The Indonesian government estimates 1 million Indonesians who are working in Malaysia are either undocumented or have overstayed their visas. Other source countries are Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Burma and the Philippines. Low economic opportunities in their home countries, the geographic proximity of Malaysia, and Malaysia’s arrival into an upper middle-class country fuel both the demand and supply of the foreign labor market in Malaysia. The economic desperation [...]

What’s Wrong with Palm Oil?

The Commoditization of the Natural Market According to the USDA World Market Trade Report, the global use of vegetable oils has steadily increased, about 5% per year, over the last 20 years. Growing populations, increased wealth in the BRIC countries, and the resulting increased meat consumption (which requires more animal feed that comes from oilseed), have all maintained the steady growth of vegetable oils. Biofuels are also driving vegetable oil production. Biofuel production has dramatically risen over the last 15 years, going from 5 billion gallons in 2001 to almost 35 billion gallons in 2016 (Beckman, J. et al 2017). Recent biofuel increases are a response to the well-publicized connection [...]

Is Sustainable Palm Oil Possible?

It is a well-known among chemical suppliers and users (ie-manufacturers of consumable goods) within the cosmetic and personal care industries that the notion of palm and palm kernel oils as being sustainable is precarious at best. “Sustainable” palm oil garners a higher price on the open market, satisfies eco-conscious consumers, and leaves all involved with the false impression that palm and palm kernel oils can be grown sustainably in the present locations from where they originate. The US market relies on the Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to certify these oils as being produced in a sustainable manner. The RSPO does so by using third-party auditors who are [...]