What are the problems?
All palm oil’s plus points have led to a huge demand globally, which has had devastating consequences. Forests are destroyed to be turned into plantations, displacing people and wildlife and releasing greenhouse gases. When peatlands are drained to grow palm, they become flammable and serious fires can result, causing even more carbon emissions, as well as health problems for people breathing in the smoke.
According to Greenpeace, more than 900,000 people in Indonesia have suffered acute respiratory infections due to the smoke from fires in 2019, and nearly 10 million children are at risk of lifelong physical and cognitive damages due to air pollution.
In the first 10 months of 2019, these fires released an amount of CO2 close to the UK’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions.
What are companies doing?
Company approaches to the issue vary hugely, from some providing no information at all about palm oil sourcing, while listing palm oil derivatives in ingredients lists, to others going to great lengths to reformulate products to avoid using it at all.
We spoke to one skincare company, Queenie Organics, which had done extensive research into emulsifiers and how they’re made. It turns out that even ingredients which technically contain no palm, may be made from a process that uses palm as a feeder material. Queenie Organics’ founder, JC, told us that non-palm oil-based emulsifiers tend to be fairly expensive in comparison, around 4-10 times the price.
Manufacturers of these products do clearly state if they are indeed 'palm oil free', as it is an exception to the rule and used as part of their eco-friendly credentials. Apparently, Cetearyl Alcohol is the most widely used emulsifier in skincare, and also found as a blend within other emulsifiers. Manufacturers of Cetearyl Alcohol often state that it is made from coconut oil and MAY use palm oil, but JC has not found a palm-free Cetearyl Alcohol yet.