Hayley Matthews: We can all help save orangutans from palm oil

Three orphaned orangutan babies at a rescue centre in Borneo Picture: AFP/Getty ImagesThree orphaned orangutan babies at a rescue centre in Borneo Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Three orphaned orangutan babies at a rescue centre in Borneo Picture: AFP/Getty Images
I've been working on a feature for BBC Radio Scotland where I give something up each month, in the hope of being a more ethical, happier, better person.

This month is palm oil-free month and boy have I learnt a lot. I first thought that it would be fairly easy because you just don’t buy anything that says “palm oil”. However, then I realised that there are 200 different words for palm oil. I’d hit a big hurdle at this stage.

I was cross-referencing all the ­products on the palm oil names list with the ones in my bathroom, then shortly after gave up and decided to change to palm oil-free brands, just to be sure. I’ve researched lots of ­different companies who, to be ­honest, if they avoid palm oil tend also to be cruelty-free and fairly ethical. So I’ve put all my make-up, creams, lotions and potions away and switched to amazing companies like PHB Ethical Beauty, Greenfrog Botanicals, Delphis Eco, Method, Faith in Nature, and Bio D. It’s easy to find palm oil-free but you really do have to do your research.

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I’ve looked at supermarkets and their status ranking on the Rainforest Action Network website, which is trying to raise awareness, and they say that Waitrose and M&S are among the most ethical for avoiding palm oil or having a really good stance on only sourcing from firms committed to the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Many companies, if including palm oil in their products, will purchase only RSPO-certified palm oil. However, there are many brands that aren’t as committed to saving the orangutans. I’ll let you do the research there so I don’t get sued as I’m in enough trouble this week.

So why is palm oil so bad? Well, think orangutan families, being macheted, murdered and torn away from their habitats, all because they eat the precious nut from the palm tree that we want to use to put in margarine, face creams, pet food and detergents. Not good.

We really need to take action against the companies and industries driving deforestation and climate change before we get the world in a right mess. I feel like we’re already halfway there with the oceans full of plastic, the air full of ­carbon dioxide and the Earth’s ­natural defences slowly being whittled away. But a wee bit won’t make any difference, will it? Yes it really will! Educate your family, spread the word, make ethical choices, educate yourself on the companies that you’re buying from, firms lining their pockets, only concerned about their profit margins. It all helps.

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I nearly popped a vein when I was in a cookie shop up town and asked if they used palm oil. The girl said “yeah, we use margarine”. I told her it would be in there, and she replied with “well, it’s just a little bit”. She got an earful but I was in a hurry so I will be going back in with some ­pictures of baby orangutans who have been torn away from their families, all so we can plant more palm oil trees to fill our junk food with.

So, I beg you, save the rainforest, save the orangutans, avoid palm oil and we might just start to reverse some of the damage. Statistics from the Rainforest Foundation suggest that by 2050 world consumption of palm oil is set to rise to 120–156 million tonnes. We currently use 62 million tonnes. At this rate, the Congo Basin will soon be an industrial unit, so, yes, your little bit does help – please keep doing it.