We get asked this question all the time. The situation seems hopeless at times. Deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, threats of species extinction, disregard of indigenous land rights, exploitation of labor. The list of problems caused by oil palm cultivation goes on and on. How can one person possibly impact situations occurring halfway around the world and do we even have the right to do so?
Below is a list of some raw materials typically made from Palm or Palm Kernel Oils. This list is not exhaustive and can change. The starred items are the only materials that currently have palm oil-free versions commercially available. Palm oil-free options are more expensive than their palm derived counterparts. Using materials that are less abundant, not grown on stolen land or with the help of child and forced labor (i.e. – more regulated), are simply going to be more expensive.
Palm Oil is a vegetable fat that is semi-solid at room temperature. This physical characteristic is due to the material’s high content of single bonds. Single bonds are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms and therefore described as “saturated” bonds. These saturated bonds allow the molecules in palm oil to sit stacked, one on top of the other. That ability to “stack” is what makes palm oil partially solid at room temperature. In contrast, double bonds give molecules a zigzag shape making them unable to stack on top of each other and therefore liquid at room temperature.
The Volunteer Coordinator at the Sumatra Rainforest Eco Retreat is a young man by the name of Santa (pronounced sônta). The retreat is in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia which is on the Island of Sumatra and just north of the Gunung Leuser national park. The Leuser ecosystem is known to be the only place where Sumatran tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans all live together. However, current population estimates for the Sumatran Rhino are less than 100 individuals and the number of Sumatran tigers is estimated to be 400-500 animals. One of the guides who took me into the rainforest told me he was hired for a 7-day trek into Leuser in search of the elusive Sumatran tiger, but they never saw any.