If you work in the world of wildlife (or even if you don’t), you are constantly hit with messages about the problems facing wildlife in every corner of the world. Sometimes, it’s hard to take it all in. If you feel this way-you are not alone.

The truth is, nobody is perfect (including me!). Although I work in the world of wildlife conservation educating others about how they can help save wildlife and habitats, I too fall in with bad habits. The use of palm oil is one of those things that is very tricky for me, and a lot of us, to avoid. Let me tell you a little about my PalmOilProblems.

Palm oil plantation in Malaysia. Photo by Jeremy Hance.

The Palm Oil 411: Palm oil is a product that is used in every day items like soap, shampoo, snacks, etc. Many palm oil plantations take over homes for animals like orangutans. Some companies work to protect wildlife while farming palm oil, others do not. The ones who set aside space and resources for wildlife we refer to as “sustainable”.

Palm oil fruit. Photo courtesy of Rhett Butler and Mongabay.

Back to my PalmOilProblems. The other day I was sitting at my desk, brainstorming ways to message to the public about how to avoid buying products with palm oil. One of the suggestions provided was to read the labels of ALL your products (beauty, food, etc.) to see what is inside. So, I decided to test myself. I keep a bottle of water-less hand wash and lotion at my desk (for the few times the humidity drops below 90% in Houston) and I had never actually looked at the ingredients in those items. I typically buy all natural/organic items when I can (that’s better, right?) so I laughed at the fact that these items could even contain palm oil-of course they wouldn’t!!! I am a wildlife conservationist!

First up-water-less hand wash. Ingredients include: ethyl alcohol (great, what’s next?), I peel open the secret cover to see more ingredients-water (no problem), and then…glycerin and in parentheses “naturally occurring palm oil”. WHAT!? What does that even mean? It says “naturally occurring”-so, is that okay? I did a bit of research, and I still can’t tell whether this is bad for orangutans or not. Looks like glycerin comes from either coconut or palm oil. I’m not sure if it’s sustainable or not, so I give myself an “F” for the water-less hand wash.

Houston Zoo orangutan, Aurora. Orangutans are losing their homes to palm oil plantations.

Up next-hand lotion. Ingredients include: dimethicone (what’s that and why am I putting it on my hands??), allantoin, oat, kernel flour, isopropul palmitate, sodium chloride, ….wait, what was that “palmitate” one?!? It sounds like palm oil, but it doesn’t actually say “palm” and “oil”. Well, thanks to Google, one quick search and I find out this thickening agent is from palm oil. Man, things are getting tricky. With even more research, I stumble upon lists and lists of ingredients that are actually palm oil, but have fancy names! Geez! How are we supposed to protect wildlife when it is just so confusing? I give myself another “F” and fail both tests. This sure doesn’t empower me to want to save wildlife, so it probably won’t work for you either. I better think of ways to get this message across in a more positive light!

So, instead of telling you to do a whole bunch of stuff you don’t want to do, avoid products, do lots of research (blah, blah, blah),  I’ll help you to save orangutans and other wildlife by telling you all about the awesome organizations that use no palm oil, or use the sustainable stuff. And, I’ll challenge you to eat healthier and live healthier by doing some of these things and I promise you’ll have less PalmOilProblems.

Palm oil fruit. Photo by Intan Shafinaz.

1. Buy products with less than 10 ingredients. Yeah, I said it…10 TOTAL ingredients. Sounds like a Sunday grocery store challenge to me!

2. Buy/use/eat products that contain ingredients you can actually pronounce! Mmmhmmm..your heart will thank you (so will orangutans).

3. Support companies that are doing things right! While I write this blog, I’m enjoying some crunchy unsalted peanut butter thanks to Trader Joe’s. Ingredients you ask? DRY ROASTED PEANUTS! Who knew? How simple! Thanks Joe the Trader!

Need to buy some makeup or beauty products? Avon is part of the sustainable palm oil companies.

Maybe you’re in the mood for some junk food after all this talk about healthy stuff? Thanks McDonalds and PepsiCo for jumping on board the sustainable palm oil train! I hope other companies like yours will join as well!

Want to find out about other companies helping to save wildlife and people through sustainable palm oil use? Visit:

Want to support orangutan conservation through the Houston Zoo? Visit us! (Part of your ticket purchase goes back to helping save animals in the wild). Or, check out our orangutan donation page, here from the comfort of your own couch.

Thank you for taking small actions and making changes to help save wildlife around the globe. I hope these solutions will help alleviate some of your PalmOilProblems…they sure did for me!

Let’s make sure animals like orangutans (among many others) have a home for the future!

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