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The Social Impacts of Palm Oil Production and Why It is Important to Use Palm Oil Free Products for Skin Care, Bath & Body

by Michelle Schmidt |

Palm oil is an important commodity. It's in many products, from food to cleaning supplies. The problem? Palm oil production has a devastating impact on the environment and local communities, often destroying ecosystems and pushing people into poverty. We'll take a look at the impact this commodity has on society and why you should consider switching to palm oil free products.

What is Palm Oil?

Palm kernel oil is a plant-derived saturated fat which is extracted from the palm fruit. It's not technically an 'oil'- it's a solid at room temperature, similar to coconut or animal fats.

palm oil harvesting

The most popular type of palm oil is "red," or crude, palm oil. Crude palm oil comes from the fruit pulp and seed (the other main types are "refined" or RSPO sustainable). The tree producing the oil must be at least 15 years old before it can produce commercial quantities of palm oil. Palm oil can be consumed in its raw form, as a salad dressing or cooking oil.

There are many other uses for palm oil; it is added to chocolate and baked goods like cupcakes, muffins and cakes. It's also widely used in the production of soap and shaving cream. The problem? Palm-oil produced on sustainable plantations is never guaranteed sustainable, and the cheapest way to produce palm-oil is by burning forests to plant palm fruit trees.

The Social Impacts of Palm Oil Production

Palm oil production is environmentally destructive, as it often involves burning forests. In the process of deforestation, valuable ecosystems are destroyed and soil quality decreases. The palm trees themselves don't live long enough to produce sustainable yields; they need at least 15 years before they can reach commercial quantities of oil (and only when grown on plantations).

palm oil deforestation

Palm oil production is also fueling climate change.

Deforestation not only releases carbon into the atmosphere, but it also destroys natural habitats and food sources for many species of animals that live in rainforests. Forests are often burned to make way for palm-oil plantations which can lead to further global warming as well as hazardous pollution from the smoke.

Loss Of Natural Habitats

The rapid conversion of tropical forests to oil palm plantations has the potential for catastrophic consequences. Not only does this lead to a loss in biodiversity and natural habitat, but also an increase in human-wildlife conflict as large animal populations become increasingly isolated from one another. Even national parks have been severely impacted because not every company chooses conservation over profits; some choose to put profits first which leads them on a path towards deforestation without any regard for what they destroy along their way there--a decision with disastrous results.

palm oil deforestation - air pollution

Air Pollution

Air pollution is a serious problem throughout the world. The burning of vegetation that occurs in natural forests and within oil palm plantations can take place with or without regulations, which releases smoke into the atmosphere polluting it and contributing to climate change. Fires are particularly difficult to put out when they occur on peat areas. These blazes have immediate consequences on health due to increased levels of air pollutants around Southeast Asia where haze affects visibility during daytime hours.

Water and Soil Pollution

Palm oil plantations are a major source of freshwater pollution. When waste from an oil mill is released, it can cause downstream biodiversity and people to be affected by the polluted water. The amount of waste that these mills produce creates high levels of soil and water contamination.

water pollution from palm oil plantation

Soil Erosion

Erosion in the soil is a major problem. It can be caused by clearing forests for plantations or from improper planting arrangements of trees on slopes that are too steep. Oil palm plants cause erosion because they’re often planted along crests - which means there's no ground cover down below them ̶ so water flows freely across their roots instead of being filtered into the earth as part of natural ecosystem processes like evaporation or transpiration. Eroded areas require more fertilizer and other inputs including repairing infrastructure such as roads when flooding occurs. 

soil erosion

The Economic Impacts of Palm Oil Production

The economic impacts of palm oil production have also been largely negative. The price of palm oil has decreased by more than 30% in the past few years. This is due to increased palm-oil production in Southeast Asia and a simultaneous decrease in demand for palm oil as a result of biofuel subsidies.

However, in 2021, the price of palm oil has risen to a 10-year high, and is expected to rise even higher in the coming months. Malaysia and Indonesia are responsible for more than 84% of the world's supply, but due to labor shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, output from these countries have decreased substantially.

Palm Oil In Personal Care Products

Historically, soap has been made from animal tallow. It was only in the 1980s that personal care manufacturers noticed a rising preference among consumers for "natural" ingredients, which many people interpreted as being plant-based. In response to this growing demand, animal fat was replaced by other materials.

Tallow is a byproduct of the meat industry - animal fat that may not have been used without being put to good use. The makers of soaps, detergents and cosmetics replaced tallow with palm oil which must be transported thousands of miles and causes environmental destruction in countries where it's produced. With consumers’ desire for more natural ingredients, it is ironically leading to the destruction of our environment! 

products with palm oil

Why It's Important to Use Palm Oil Free Products for Skin Care, Bath & Body

Palm oil free products are better for the environment and for their social impacts, which is why choosing a palm oil free product over one that contains palm oil can make a difference - even if it's just in your skin care routine!

  • Skin Care: Look for hair conditioners, lotions, cleansers and scrubs that don't contain palm oil.
  • Bath & Body: Look for soaps, shampoos and conditioners without palm-oil as an ingredient.
  • Shaving Cream: Palm oil free shaving cream is available from a number of manufacturers - look at the label!
  • Lip Balm: Natural lip balms that use a vegetable-based alternative to palm oil are available.

The social impacts of palm oil production are far-reaching, and the environmental costs of producing it may be too high. If you’re looking for a sustainable alternative to palm oil in your skin care routine or bath & body products, look no further! Peet Bros is committed to providing palm oil free products that you can feel good about using.