From Mince Pies to Birds of Paradise: a Conversation about Palm Oil

This was the first of our Conversation Evenings, held at The Rose, Stapleford, on 8 January.  There was a good turn-out on a winter’s evening to hear Janet O’Boyle introduce the subject before opening up a more general conversation.

Summary:

Production and uses

The main producers are Indonesia and Malaysia. Oil palm is a very productive, cheap and land efficient crop, grown on large plantations and also by smallholders. The main uses in the UK are in processed food, cosmetics and cleaning products.

Problems

  • Global warming: deforestation, burning, and peat degradation contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than the world’s entire transport sector and makes Indonesia the 3rd largest carbon emitter in the world.
  • Air pollution: burning causes air pollution, such as the 2015 smog disaster across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Most big companies have stopped burning now but smallholders still do.
  • Human rights abuses: including forceful removal of indigenous forest people; child labour; and exploitative working conditions.
  • Loss of biodiversity: destruction of tropical rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations.
  • Loss of other benefits provided by the forest: use for food, as a water reservoir, and as protection against landslides and floods.

Food

Food ingredients have to be labelled, now including palm oil, so it’s easier to know what you’re getting. Sometimes the label says “sustainable palm oil”. Can we assume it isn’t if it doesn’t?

Cosmetics/ingredients

Chemistry degree required!

“Palmate” on eg soap means derived from palm oil, “cocoate” from coconut oil etc.

Many chemical ingredients can be derived from palm oil and there are websites offering long lists of ingredients that indicate palm oil. But these could also be derived from coconut or other oils or petrochemicals, eg “palmitate” is a fatty acid found in coconut, olive and other oils as well as palm oil.

“Palm-oil free” may just mean that palm oil is not used as a whole ingredient.

Alternatives

Coconut oil requires 7 x as much land for the same yield as palm oil. Soya oil production is already contributing to habitat destruction in Brazil and Argentina. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) argues that these alternatives would contribute to even more biodiversity losses than palm oil.

Butter, containing no palm oil, has twice the global warming impact of margarine, which generally does contain palm oil.

Sustainable Palm Oil

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is made up of palm oil producers and buyers and environmental organisations like WWF. It produced a set of environmental and social criteria that must be complied with to label oil as Certified Sustainable Palm Oil. From November 2018 these include no deforestation, no burning, and some protection for human rights.

Currently 25% of palm oil is certified as sustainable. The market for it is limited, so some is sold as non-sustainable.

Conclusion?

Should we be demanding more genuinely sustainable palm oil to encourage change rather than boycotting it all together? If we avoid all palm oil we reduce the drive for better sustainability. Iceland’s attempt to avoid palm oil in its own brand products proved unachievable. But Greenpeace’s campaign has led one of the biggest palm oil traders to monitor its suppliers and suspend any caught clearing rainforest.

Electric vehicles

2G3S member Janet O’Boyle attended the Green Living event in Cambridge on 22 September, advertised in our last newsletter. She found some interesting facts about electric vehicles; here is her report:

 

‘At the Cambridge Green Living Event I was interested in the electric scooter display, a vehicle I hadn’t heard of before. An electric scooter is faster and goes further than an electric bike, and costs less than £3000. So it would be suitable for journeys that are too far for a bike (like my 12 mile commute) but it uses less energy and takes up less road space than an electric car. You can charge it overnight from a 3-pin socket. Further details at www.supersoco.co.uk.

 

There was also an electric car stand, promoting a tie-in between an octopus energy tariff specifically designed for economical car charging, installation of a home charging point, and lease of a choice of electric cars (from Leaf to Jag) at less than dealer rates (they said). More details at www.octopus.ev.com.’

News from the August meeting

2G3S meeting held 30 August 2018
We discussed various ideas for future events, including ways to progress our campaign against single-use plastics.  As part of this we are publicising the Eco Living Festival in Cambridge on 22 September.

There are also important events being held by other groups in the near future, including the international ‘Rise for Climate’ action on Saturday 8 September.

Also Camcycle, formerly Cambridge Cycling Campaign, are holding a month of cycling events in Cambridge throughout September.

Back to 2G3S: we are hoping to hold an Apple Day next autumn, possibly as part of a wider event.  The idea is to combine apple pressing for juice, which we have done before, with talks and activities on how to use your apples (making chutneys, cakes etc).

We will almost certainly hold another Repair Café, and are considering ideas for winter evening activities – something on plastics? green finance and investment?  Let us know what you would be interested in.

Fracking: we plan to be part of a delegation to our MP, Heidi Allen, urging her to vote against the government’s proposal to bypass local democracy and planning processes to fast-track fracking.

Photos!
We are looking for photos for our new website.  If you would like to send in a photo (as jpg format please) that illustrates either our general Mission Statement, or a particular type of 2G3S event, we would be delighted to hear from you.  We especially welcome submissions from young people.  So please send your photo, plus your age if you think it relevant, to greengroupssss@gmail.com.  Photos are welcome at any time, but we shall be making our initial selections by the end of December, and awarding a small prize to the best (ioho!) of those we publish.

Financial  help for other groups
Finally, we are a small group of activists.  We always welcome more people to our meetings!  But we have also decided that one way of advancing our aims is to give financial help to other organisations who wish to put on events.  So if you or your group want to stage an event in the 2G3S area which complies with the 2G3S Mission Statement, and need some funding for pump priming, you can apply to us for up to £75.  If at the end of the day you can give some or all of this back, that would be great, but is not essential.  Contact us for more information.

Summer 2018 Newsletter

Here is our Summer 2018 Newsletter as a download.

As well as reports of our most recent Repair Cafe and dates for future cafes, it contains updates on campaigns and lots of information about other green events locally, and green news from the wider world.

Palm Oil reduction

As with plastics, campaigns to reduce palm oil consumption, based on a concern for the loss of forests in Indonesia and elsewhere with its drastic effect on air pollution, global warming and indigenous peoples’ lifestyles, have been boosted by the much publicised ‘collateral damage’ to the orangutans who are losing their habitat and being killed in the process.  In 2017 the EU voted to ban biofuels made from vegetable oils including palm oil by 2020.  And some retailers are taking action – in March the supermarket chain ‘Iceland’ announced it will stop using palm oil in its own-brand products by the end of 2018.  But earlier this year there was a report that the UK is pushing for a deal to boost palm oil imports in defiance of EU trends:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/09/uk-defies-eu-over-indonesian-palm-oil-trade-leaked-papers-show

Partly in response to this, Rainforest Rescue have set up a petition against a free trade agreement on palm oil – go here if you want to sign it:

https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/petitions/1132/no-to-free-trade-with-palm-oil?mtu=326768568&t=4023

Plastics Campaign

There has been a huge increase in awareness of plastic pollution, due in no small part to publicity such as David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet’ programme.  We have seen victories both small and large, from PG Tips resolving to remove plastic from their teabags (did you sign the petition featured in our last newsletter?!!), and the pub in Bristol whch is switching to using drinking straws made from pasta; to the government commitment to introduce a deposit scheme for single-use drinks containers (plastic, glass or metal), and the UK Plastics Pact whereby in April companies responsible for 80% of plastic packaging in supermarkets pledged to crack down by 2025.  And more people are signing up to get their milk delivered in glass bottles – must have read our November newsletter!  Will 2G3S save the world, we ask ourselves?!

Local action on packaging

There have been several responses to my suggestion in the last newsletter that you let us know of positive initiatives by local shops:

We said that Barkers butchers, Great Shelford are very happy if you take a Tupperware container in when buying ham, sausages, cheese etc.  It turns out that Searle’s butchers in Sawston do likewise.

Shelford Deli are now using degradable materials for their takeaways.

Dorrington’s Bakers in Sawston will give you your sliced loaf in a paper, rather than plastic, bag if you ask.

Slightly further afield, Arjuna on Mill Road, Cambridge, routinely allow you to use your own containers for herbs and spices.

2G3S survey – packaging and local sourcing

We have decided that we are going to do a more systematic survey of local food retailers and eateries to find out their policy on plastic packaging; and while we are at it we shall ask them to what extent they source their food locally.  We hope to collate the results in time for the summer issue of this newsletter.

Trips to Waste Treatment plant

Do you know the difference between an MRF and an MBT?!

In April we organised a couple of trips to the Amey Waste Management Park in Waterbeach.  On each occasion about a dozen of us toured the site, took part in a light-hearted quiz and a ‘which bin?’ exercise, and were given the opportunity to find out all we’ve ever wanted to know about recycling in Cambridgeshire!

We all came home having learned lots about what happens after our wheelie bins get collected, and how important it is not to put inappropriate things in any of the bins.

A visit here is recommended to all – unless you have a very sensitive nose, as the whole site does smell quite rank! Well done to our ten-year-old visitor with the acute sense of smell who endured it throughout and asked some of the most insightful questions.

Jon Crisp, the Information Officer at Amey, is going to have a stall at Shelford Feast on Sunday 15 July, where he will not only have answers to all your recycling questions but also games and quizzes for your enjoyment.