Face Palm: The Story of Rang-Tan and Palm Oil

What do you really know about palm oil? A banned Christmas ad went viral, leaving viewers with a lot of questions about the commonly used product.
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Face Palm: The Story of Rang-Tan and Palm Oil

What do you really know about palm oil? A banned Christmas ad went viral, leaving viewers with a lot of questions about the commonly used product.
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THE BACKGROUND

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you likely remember this ad.

It was banned in the U.K. for being too political (also read as: having the “wrong politics,” as one Twitter user aptly pointed out).

As is so often the case, the news that it was banned resulted in global media attention and basically everyone seeing it. (Nothing like scandal to spread the word.) The short animation, called Rang-tan, illuminates the rainforest destruction behind the production of palm oil, which is in many of our daily hygiene and beauty products as well as processed foods.

In other words, we’re all indirectly responsible for killing a bunch of adorable Rang-tans. Merry Christmas!

😩

RANG-TAN, OR THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT

Behind the cute cartoon is the reality that deforestation for palm oil kills roughly 25 orangutans per day, along with other wildlife. That lipstick you’re giving your co-worker in the office Secret Santa? It probably contains palm oil. The margarine that your vegan friend is using as an alternative to butter? Well, we have some bad news for them

According to the non-profit organization Rainforest Rescue, palm oil is the most common of all vegetable oils, and its plantations cover more than 27 million hectares, entirely in the tropicsThe plantations require large-scale deforestation (the complete clearing of an ecosystem) of tropical forests with high conservation values for palm oil production; this means that the plight of already endangered and at-risk animal and plant species is rapidly becoming that much more dire.

Some of the species on the brink of extinction, thanks, in large part, to palm oil production, are the Orangutan, Bornean Pygmy Elephant (not Dumbo!), and the Sumatran Tiger; the World Wildlife Foundation has a more expansive list that includes the Sumatran Elephant and Sumatran Rhino. Orangutans were likely the focus of Iceland’s ad, though, because they now only find their homes in Malaysia and Indonesia, where more than 85% of the world’s palm oil is produced. That said, Sumatran Tigers number less than 400 and are the last remaining Indonesian tigers, who face both poaching and deforestation daily.

In other words, our stocking stuffers, gift boxes, and dinner table this holiday season come with a steep price: the ghosts of all the animals that have lost their homes and lives to palm oil, which is used in more than 50% of all packaged consumables.

Like your moisturizer, let that sink in.

While the ad focuses on appealing to our human weakness for cute animals to get our attention, the negative impacts of palm oil production are even further reaching than the animal species that inhabit the rainforests. Burning is a common method of deforestation, and the air pollution that comes as a result of all that smoke and carbon dioxide is heavily contributing to climate change and is a particular problem in Southeast Asia, where two-thirds of the seven million deaths from air pollution occur each year. (Pass an inhaler, stat!)

And we haven’t even touched on the soil and water pollution, erosion, and the displacement of peoples and animals that palm oil production is directly causing. But trust us, that’s also a thing.

THE GROCERY LIST

If you’re looking to make a couple of changes, we’ve assembled a small list of products to avoid if you want to save the Orangutans (and people, and stuff). The World Wildlife Fund lists 12 all together that would likely list “palm oil” on its ingredients label, which are:

  • Lipstick
  • Pizza dough
  • Instant noodles
  • Shampoo
  • Ice cream
  • Detergent
  • Margarine
  • Chocolate
  • Cookies
  • Biodiesel
  • Soap
  • Packaged bread

There are also many products that don’t clearly label “palm oil” as one of their ingredients, but if your cosmetics, food, or household goods contain any of the following, then they also contain palm oil:

  • Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol

The WWF recommends looking for two things when you shop for consumables: the RSPO label, which means that the palm oil used in that product was harvested and produced sustainably; and the Green Palm label which means that the company or producer is in the process of transitioning to sustainable manufacturing practices and funds from the purchase of that product will help them to do so.

You can also sign a petition to lift the ban on the Iceland ad to ensure that more people get the message. (Signed, sealed, delivered.)

THE TAKEAWAY

The message isn’t, “Palm oil is bad – don’t use it!” Instead, as Greenpeace Indonesia has stated, it’s this: Deforestation is bad – don’t do it. As consumers, our job is to make sure we’re not promoting it, and we can do so by supporting sustainable practices and companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, which has partnered with the WWF in its efforts to move towards more sustainability.

Greenpeace has actually warned that the complete avoidance of palm oil won’t solve the problem, but will instead lead to the deforestation of habitats for different, alternative products. So remember, palm oil = good. Rainforest murder = bad.

And, most important of all, Rang-tan = freakin’ adorable (albeit totally heartbreaking).


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