Palm Oil: Who Knew?

Hi! My name is Ruby and I’m a 9th grader from Philadelphia. This is the beginning of a project I am doing about palm oil. Palm oil is found in many common products including Nutella, Oreos, lipstick, detergent, and more. It has useful benefits, as well as highly destructive down-sides. The issue with palm oil is in the way it is produced. It is typically produced by cutting down palm trees located primarily in Indonesia. These trees provide habitats for many animals, and because the trees are being cut down, these animals are becoming endangered.

My intention for this project is to raise awareness about the issue. I believe it is important that people learn about palm oil because in some ways, the wellbeing of the world is at stake. I also think people need to know about this issue so that they can help to repair what damage has been done. My goal is not to discourage the use of palm oil altogether. Instead, I want to promote the use of sustainably produced palm oil, which I will elaborate on later.

My personal connection to this issue has to do with Girl Scouts. I was a Girl Scout for six years. I sold hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout cookies, all of which contain palm oil. Looking back, I regret my decision to sell the cookies and to support the effort because of how negatively it affects the world. Girl Scouts of the USA defends their use of palm oil by stating, “It is necessary to use palm oil in our cookies because palm oil is unique in its ability to provide volume and texture in baked goods, usually without adding trans fats.” This is a good point, however, it does not exactly justify the way palm oil is produced.

Like I said, I want to promote the use of sustainable palm oil because it is an adequate solution to this issue. It is produced in a way that does not have a negative impact on the environment. In 2008, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil created a set of criteria for producing sustainable palm oil. One of the most important of these criteria states, “No primary forests or areas which contain significant concentrations of biodiversity (e.g. endangered species) or fragile ecosystems, or areas which are fundamental to meeting basic or traditional cultural needs of local communities (high conservation value areas), can be cleared.” This is key because (if followed) these criteria could potentially eradicate the issue of palm oil-related deforestation. Keep in mind though, this does not erase the damage that has already been done.

Here are two examples of what sustainable palm oil food labels look like from the WWF. Keep an eye out for them next time you go to the grocery store.

There are several organizations that are hard at work trying to fix this issue. The World Wildlife Fund is a major non-profit that works to improve the environment. This article from their website talks about how they protest the use of palm oil. It also discusses the alarming fact that the production of palm oil, as well as how it is sometimes burned, can create greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming.
This picture from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows the deforestation that is a result of palm oil production.

Overall, palm oil is a big problem. However, there is a known solution, which is certainly a step in the right direction. Still, I wonder if there are any downsides to producing sustainable palm oil. My guess is that it is more expensive, otherwise I assume manufacturers would simply use it without a thought. Stay tuned for my next blog post!

If you’re interested in learning more about palm oil, visit my Annotated Bibliography for extra information.

Comments (1)

Sarah Son (Student 2020)
Sarah Son

Hey Ruby G! I'm so happy that you chose this topic for your project. Before, I didn't really know much about palm oil and how big of a deal it is. I'm sure that other people weren't really aware of this either. I am excited to see your project sprout. So proud of you. Your blog looks so professional.