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12/25/2018 08:00 EST | Updated 12/26/2018 11:19 EST

How To Be Palm Oil-Conscious This New Year

Palm oil is in nearly every product you use, and it's destroying vast tracts of land. Here's how you can help.

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Palm oil is the most produced, consumed and traded vegetable oil in the world.

It’s time to talk about palm oil.

Whether you realize it or not, this vegetable oil is in about half of all consumer goods, including food, soaps, cosmetics and cleaning supplies. It’s the most produced, consumed and traded vegetable oil in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), perhaps making a palm oil-free life seem impossible, but its consumption should be on everyone’s radar.

Every hour, the Orangutan Project estimates, areas equal to 300 football fields are destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia. The trade-off for this growth is animals ― like endangered orangutans, elephants and tigers ― rapidly losing their natural habitats. Palm oil producers are known to go to any length to produce the commodity, including illegally seizing indigenous lands, employing forced and child labor, and killing animals that get in their way.

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An illegal palm oil plantation is seen in Aceh, Indonesia, shortly after its creation in June.

The good news is that many, including the WWF and Greenpeace, believe that it’s possible to produce palm oil responsibly, though all sides appear to admit that there’s still a ways to go.

One way to help curb palm oil demand is for people to reduce consumption. This can be done by checking ingredient labels, though palm oil is often listed as something else. Another way is to avoid processed foods, because palm oil is often an ingredient in other ingredients. (As a bonus, whole foods are often healthier for you.)

Another way to help is to purchase products that use sustainably sourced palm oil, many of which are certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and feature its label. Though there are debates on the RSPO’s strength, many argue that it’s wiser to use sustainable palm oil instead of totally boycotting palm oil because the palms produce more oil and require less land to grow than other oils, like rapeseed, sunflower and soybean.

Here is a list of products to help you stay more palm oil-conscious this year.

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Palm oil helps give chocolate a smooth and shiny appearance.

Chocolate

Palm oil helps give chocolate a smooth and shiny appearance and keeps it from melting, making it an extremely popular ingredient, especially in chocolates that have soft or gooey features.

Divine Chocolate is one brand that is not only palm oil free but also takes extra strides to give back to the communities that help produce it. 

Ghirardelli’s solid chocolate is palm oil free. Its products containing soft fillings may contain palm oil, but the company vows that it will be from sustainable resources.

Lindt’s solid chocolate bars are also free of palm oil, opting for 100 percent cocoa butter instead. Its chocolates with fillings, like the Lindor Truffles, use palm oil that is sustainably sourced, according to the company’s website.

Godiva also uses sustainably sourced palm oil and is a member of the RSPO.

Hershey is another company that has committed to using sustainably sourced palm oil. It has received a high rating from the WWF. 

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Palm oil helps make ice cream smooth and creamy.

Ice Cream

Like chocolate, palm oil helps make ice cream smooth and creamy.

Ben & Jerry’s, which is already known for its activism, is palm oil free, making it one sweet alternative.

Coconut Bliss is also free of palm oil, with the organic, non-diary ice cream using coconut to achieve its creamy texture.

Whole Foods Market’s 365 Everyday Value brand items use RSPO-certified palm oil, meaning its ice creams ― like its organic ice cream bars and various fair trade flavors ― are great options.

Cookies And Chips

The Cookie Department, based in Portland, Oregon, produces cookies that are free of palm oil. Its products are available in stores and online.

Pepperidge Farm offers a number of palm oil-free snacks and cookies, including its Sugar Cookies, Lemon Cookies, Chessman Cookies, Milano Milk Chocolate Cookies, Milano Sweet Toffee Cookies and Goldfish crackers (excluding the Goldfish Grahams). Pepperidge Farm products that do contain palm oil are Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, according to a company spokesperson. 

Late July tortilla chips, which are part of the Campbell Snacks division, are palm oil free, according to a company spokesperson. 

Kettle Brand chips’ ingredients include safflower and/or sunflower, and/or canola oil and/or olive oil, but no palm oil, a spokesperson confirmed.

Whole Foods Market’s 365 Everyday Value brand items are again great options for snacks like pretzels, cookieschips and popcorn, since they are made using RSPO-certified oil. 

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Palm oil makes butter and nut spreads creamy and helps keep the oils from separating.

Spreads

Palm oil is great for keeping spreads like margarine solid at room temperature and for making spreads like peanut butter creamy. It also helps keep the oils from separating. Depending on your taste, olive oil, avocado and coconut oil are great alternatives, but so are some of the products below.

Wild Friends Food offers a range of almond, cashew and peanut butter in various flavors (including chocolate coconut, gingerbread and sugar cookie), all of which are palm oil free. It can be purchased online and in select stores.

Spread the Love Foods offers nut spreads as well as jam made without palm oil.

Barney Butter offers palm oil-free almond butter that’s also gluten-free, organic and produced in a peanut-free facility ― for all those with peanut allergies. 

Earth Balance is a member of the RSPO council and uses sustainable palm oil in its variations of nut and buttery spreads.

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Palm oil is free of trans fats and provides volume and texture to cereals.

Cereal

Palm oil is popular in cereals because it is a trans fat-free vegetable oil that provides volume and texture.

General Mills, which is perhaps best known for its cereals, may not be palm oil free, but it is an RSPO member that has received high points by the WWF for being a responsible palm oil user.

The Kellogg Co., also perhaps best known for its cereals, is an RSPO member and has received similar praise from the WWF for its responsible palm oil use. Its brands include Frosted FlakesPop-Tarts and Special K.

Kashi, whose parent company is Kellogg’s, has vowed to use palm oil that is RSPO-certified.

Whole Foods Market’s 365 Everyday Value brand items, which use RSPO- certified oil, include various cereals, including organic raisin bran and corn flakes.

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Palm oil is a common ingredient in soaps and shampoos. It provides natural, moisturizing oils. Alternative oils include coconut and olive.

Soaps And Shampoos

Palm oil may provide natural oils to soaps and shampoos, but there are plenty of other options, as well as containerless products, to choose from. There are also plenty of ways to make your own shampoo or soap at home.

J.R. Liggett is a New Hampshire-based company that manufactures palm oil-free soaps and shampoos, which can be purchased online and in stores.

Freedom Soaps produces its products without palm oil, opting instead for olive and coconut oils instead. Their products also do not contain synthetic fragrances, artificial dyes or colors, or paraben.

Ethique’s products are not only palm oil-free but plastic-free as well. Its soaps and shampoos come in solid bars instead of in bottles, reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills.

Tom’s of Maine not only uses sustainably sourced palm oil that’s RSPO certified in its soap, but its products also are free of artificial fragrances, colors and preservatives.

Dr. Bronner’s is known for producing Castile soaps, a type of cleaner that can be used for just about anything ― including shampoo, body wash, laundry detergent and general household cleaners. Its products do contain palm oil, though the company vows that it is exclusively harvested from palm fruits that are grown on land that is owned by its sister company in Ghana.

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Palm oil is common in household cleaning products, including laundry detergents, dishwashing liquid and all-purpose cleaners.

Household Cleaning Products

Finding palm oil-free cleaning supplies can be tough. The products’ ingredients are not always listed, like it is with food, making it hard to identify a palm oil-free product. Fortunately, there are some options out there. You can also always go au naturale by using baking soda, which can clean almost anything around your home.

Pure Soap Flake Co.’s laundry soap is free of palm oil. It uses Castile soap from coconut and soybean vegetable oil instead. You can order its soap online.

Planet Inc. offers seven cleaning products that are free of palm oil and palm oil-derived ingredients. These include its Ultra Dishwashing Liquid, Planet Ultra Liquid Laundry Detergent, Planet All Purpose Spray Cleaner, Planet Delicate Laundry Wash, Planet Ultra Powder Laundry Detergent, Planet Automatic Dishwasher Detergent Powder and Planet Automatic Dishwasher Pacs, according to a company spokesperson. Its products, which can be purchased online and in stores, are also hypoallergenic and 100% biodegradable.

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day ingredients include palm oil that’s RSPO certified.

Cascade, Dawn, Gain, Mr. Clean and Joy dishwashing liquid are all cleaning products that contain sustainably sourced palm oil following a pledge by manufacturer Procter & Gamble, which has received a high rating by the WWF as an RSPO member. 

Tide, Gain, Cheer, Bounce and Ultra Downy have detergents and other clothing cleaning products that contain sustainably sourced palm oil since the pledge by manufacturer Procter & Gamble

Ajax dish and surface cleaner is made with sustainably sourced palm oil. Its manufacturer, Colgate-Palmolive, is RSPO-certified.

Palmolive dishwashing soap and detergent are also made with sustainably sourced palm oil for the same reason: Colgate-Palmolive’s RSPO commitment.

CORRECTION:An earlier version of this story misidentified Late July chips as a Pepperidge Farm product. It is a Campbell Snacks brand.