Palm oil

070: Take action on palm oil

Cost of taking action: £/$/€ NIL

Take action to reduce our consumption of palm oil

What is palm oil?

We’ve probably all heard of palm oil, even if only from this advert that made us all shed a tear back in 2018…

But what is palm oil and what is the problem with it?

Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil that is produced from the fruit of palm oil trees. Palm oil trees, native to Africa, were introduced as an ornamental crop to South-East Asia around 100 years ago. South-east Asian countries such as Indonesia, are now thought to supply around 85% of the world’s palm oil supply.

What products contain palm oil?

Take a trip to your nearest supermarket and you will find palm oil in just about anything – it is seemingly impossible to avoid!

From food items such as biscuits and chocolate, to household cleaners and beauty products, palm oil is an ingredient. It is certainly a versatile crop. Aside from the supermarket aisle, palm oil also makes appearances in our fuel and animal feed.

But why is palm oil so popular?

Why is palm oil so popular?

Palm oil, the world’s most traded vegetable oil, is seen as a “wonder” crop. Not only is it proven to be versatile (as we’ve seen above, it can be used in almost anything from food to fuel), it’s also a very high yielding crop, allowing those who produce it maximum output at an affordable rate.

On the socio-economic front, many communities now rely on the palm oil industry for their income.

What is the problem with palm oil?

The problem is the resulting deforestation.

Forest and peatland areas are being rapidly converted into palm oil tree plantations, causing large scale deforestation.


Deforestation decimates the habitats of much of our planet’s species. In the case of palm oil, species such as Orangutans bear the brunt of this habitat loss. Expansion of palm oil plantations have knock on effects on the whole ecosystem, including adjacent habitats and water sources.


Much of Indonesia’s natural forests grow in swampy, peat conditions. The palm oil plantations marked out for these areas need dry habitat to grow, leading to the draining of these peat areas. The destruction of peat releases carbon dioxide into the environment – a key greenhouse gas propelling climate change. In addition, this newly dried environment becomes a flammable hazard. Not only do these raging fires release even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but can cause severe health problems for communities living nearby.


Communities local to palm oil plantations have suffered the devastating effects of the unforgiving palm oil industry. According to the United Nations, fires caused by palm oil plantations are risking the health and wellbeing of millions of children in Indonesia. Land taken for plantations is often forcibly “grabbed” through harassment, illegal activity, and displacement of citizens. Also, this is loss of land that would have otherwise been used for food and valuable resources.

What can we, as consumers, do?

The power really is with the consumer. Companies care about their reputation and will listen and respond to changing demands. Here’s what we are asking you to do for this action:

  • Avoid purchasing products containing palm oil where alternatives are available. Look for RSPO certified products and those with deforestation free policies
  • Write to and demand better from supermarkets and companies selling products containing palm oil
  • Contact brands through social media to start conversations about sustainable practices around palm oil
  • See how well your favourite brands score on WWF’s palm oil scorecard at

Take action to reduce your consumption of palm oil: please think about the implications on planet, people and wildlife of this seemingly innocuous product, and switch to sustainable brands.

Thank you.

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