The Secret Ingredient…Palm Oil

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By Stephanie Wild 

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 5 of VARSITY News.


You may not know much about palm oil, but you have probably consumed it – it is the most common vegetable oil used in the world. Not only is it used in food products, but it has also permeated through to the cosmetics industry. Such popularity stems from the plant’s edibility, versatility, as well as from its extreme productivity relative to other vegetable oils. Because palm grows best in tropical environments, this poses a threat to rainforests themselves, as well as to their biodiversity with 80% of palm oil being produced in Indonesia and Malaysia alone.    


The subsequent and extensive deforestation has already been felt in the above region, which also happens to contain 10% of global biodiversity. Some species now endangered include tigers, orangutans, elephants, and rhinos. The effects are not, however, limited to the tropics. Deforestation having led to a decreased capacity for carbon dioxide absorption, there has been a global trend in increased greenhouse gases, thereby exacerbating climate-change. 


When faced with such consequences, our society seems hell-bent on boycotts and sanctions. This becomes difficult when we consider that most companies simply use palm oil as a stabiliser, which is not always listed under ingredients. If we cannot identify the guilty products, then we cannot successfully avoid them. Such action would also only serve to punish companies trying to change their ways for the better, as well as encourage companies to adopt even worse practices. As stated above, the very reason that palm oil has monopolised nearly every industry is its efficiency. Abandoning this product too quickly without having theorised a better alternative could lead to even more destructive farming and harvesting practices.


As consumers, we should be more aware of which cosmetics companies are actively developing research programmes in search for alternative and sustainable methods. In this way, we can direct our consumerist attention to those palm oil-free products, as well as to those companies with certified sources of palm oil. Examples of the former include Vaseline, as well as all Lush products; with examples of the latter including The Body Shop, L’Occitane, Aesop, and Weleda products. As impossible and perhaps ineffectual cutting all palm oil products may seem, it remains important to focus on those products using sustainably resourced palm oil to mitigate any destruction to the planet.



This section of VARSITY is a vehicle for expression on any topic by members of the UCT community. The opinions within this section are not necessarily those of the VARSITY collective or its advertisers.


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