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Exclusive interview

Palm oil usage part I: Its impact on the environment

By Natasha Spencer , 10-Jan-2017

Palm oil usage part I: Its impact on the environment

As the use of palm oil remains commonplace in the cosmetics industry, we spoke to Alexis Maisonet, Marketing Analyst and R&D Innovation Technician at Bentley Labs about the damaging effects that its usage can have on the environment and the importance of finding alternative methods.

“The use of palm oil is extremely prevalent in the cosmetics industry. Many raw materials, such as natural surfactants, are derived from palm oil,” said Alexis Maisonet, Marketing Analyst and R&D Innovation Technician at Bentley Labs.

Often found in a variety of personal care products such as shampoos and soaps, it is considered useful for the industry as a cleansing and conditioning agent.

However, Maisonet said that it is not always so easy to identify which products contain palm oil: “Ingredient listings may not directly list the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) of Palm Oil (Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Oil) which makes it difficult to identify which products contain palm oil. Palm oil is used in lipstick as it holds colour well and has a higher melting point.”

Brand-enhancing, yet environmentally-damaging?

Indonesia, Malaysia, and Australia have the highest use of palm oil in APAC.

Yet despite its popularity, Maisonet emphasised that the use of palm oil in cosmetics production is having a considerable detrimental impact on APAC nations’ people, animals and wider society.

“There is a rapid rate of deforestation in the APAC nations that produce palm oil. Deforestation has led to the loss of acreage of natural habitats and the killings of animals that inhabit those areas, including elephants, tigers, orangutans, and rhinos,” Maisonet went on to say.

“In addition, the land to be used for palm oil production may hurt indigenous people who habitat those lands.”

“Some are being forced into labour and experience human rights abuse. The use of fire to eliminate forests leads to a massive amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.”

Accepted alternatives

Considering alternatives is an integral move that APAC governments and brands should take to reduce their palm oil usage. However, “it may be very difficult to find an alternative source to palm oil considering how widespread its usage has become”.

“The main challenge will be to find a truly sustainable sourcing method that does not lead to deforestation and the various other negative repercussions,” said Maisonet.

Another key obstacle to overcome before brands would opt for palm oil alternatives is that it is “extremely affordable” and therefore forces any other substitute to at least match or improve on the price of palm oil, along with gathering brand trust and identity to offset the large appeal that palm oil has amassed.

“The palm generates a high amount of oil, allowing for maximum usage...It Is very versatile and used in industrial, food production, personal care,” added Maisonet.

It would also need to replicate the further uses that palm oil provides as “the organic waste from producing palm oil, which includes oil palm shells and oil palm fruit bunches, can be used to produce energy by being converted into pellets and used for biofuel”.

Responding to companies using palm oil

We asked Maisonet, Marketing Analyst and R&D Innovation Technician at Bentley Labs what she would say to those companies that believe palm oil is a positive part of their sustainability initiatives.

Maisonet responded: “I would encourage them to track their sourcing. “Are they using palm oil from a distributor that burns forests and compromises native species? It is difficult to make a change on a portion of the supply chain that you do not directly control.”

“But money talks and it will take a group effort to make a difference. Palm can be a great source as it is a natural product, easily grown, and does not require drilling into the Earth like oil. But at the same time, it decreases the longevity of our planet,” Maisonet continued.

The second instalment of this interview will be published on 11th January 2017.

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