How much of your shopping list contains palm oil?



There have been a number of news articles and awareness campaigns over the years regarding the controversial use of palm oil. Most recently, Iceland’s advert highlighting the removal of palm-oil products in its Christmas advert caused quite a stir when it was taken off-air. This has served to bring palm oil back into the public eye — but is it as much of a concern now as it was in the past? Just how damaging is palm oil?

Here with play bark supplier Compost Direct, we take a look at the problem with this plant-based oil.

Where palm oil comes from

Palm oil trees produce the sought-after vegetable oil. The oil these trees produces is a fantastic product: it’s a healthier alternative to many other oils, aids with lathering in soaps, and holds colours in cosmetic items well while helping with a smooth application. It can enhance the texture of doughs, conditions hair, free from trans fats, makes chocolate look shiny, gives baked goods a creamy taste, removes dirt and oil, and relatively inexpensive.

Though its saturated fats count is high, it’s not difficult to see why this oil is so well-used. Sadly, as with most things, human demand is so much higher than the planet can naturally produce and replenish.

The problem with palm oil

The palm oil itself isn’t the issue. The problem is mainly with the method of procurement, which can be highly destructive.

Harvesting palm oil starts with the fruit of the tree being collected. These trees live for around 30 years, but they grow to considerable heights. If the trees become too tall, the fruit is more difficult to collect. So, the trees are cut down to make room for more trees.

There’s also the matter of demand being far higher than the number of palm oil trees available. According to the Guardian, India, China, and Indonesia’s demand for palm oil alone totals 40% of global palm oil consumptions. To meet this lucrative consumer demand, rainforests are cut down to plant the more profitable palm oil trees in their place. These rainforests are home to so many animals and delicate ecosystems. Essentially, we are replacing trees that benefit animals for trees that benefit humans. The impact has been devasting for orangutans in particular, with an estimated 100,000 deaths of the primate caused by deforestation over the last 16 years. On top of that, the burning of these rainforests is said to have contributed to the high levels of pollution witnessed in parts of Asia.

Items that contain palm oil

There are many products that make use of palm oil, including cosmetics, food, and even laundry products. It is also difficult to avoid products with palm oil in, as many products do not explicitly state their palm oil content — the ingredient has so many different names and derivatives that can be listed instead as a means to cloak its use.

If a product is listed as RSPO (the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oils) certified, this means that the palm oil has come from a certified sustainable palm oil source. Some products will, however, list that they are RSPO, which means their palm oils have come from certified sustainable palm oil sources. However, there has been some criticism of the RSPO due to their lack of clarity regarding clearing rainforests to grow more palm oil trees.

A study in shopping: example shopping list

Our method

Based on Which’s top rated online supermarket of 2018, (Iceland), we wrote up a small shopping list. We selected two ‘best seller’ products from each of Iceland’s ‘popular categories’: Frozen, Fresh, Food Cupboard, Household, Drinks, and Bakery*.

First, we checked the product’s ingredient list from either Iceland’s listing or the brand’s website to see if palm oil was clearly listed. We included the terms ‘palm fat’, ‘vegetable oil (palm)’ and other obvious variants. We then checked through the ingredients lists and compared it to the 426 alternative palm oil names listed by Palm Oil Investigations. In these instances, upon one alternative name being spotted in the ingredients list of a product, we marked the product as potentially containing palm oil, as these ingredients could come from other sources.

ProductPalm oil clearly listed in ingredients? Palm oil referred to by a different name in ingredient?Result
Frozen: Iceland 60 Crispy Chicken Dippers No No Contains no palm oil**
Frozen: Chicago Town 2 Deep Dish Pepperoni PizzasNoNoContains no palm oil**
Chilled: Utterly Butterly SpreadYesNoContains palm oil**
Chilled: Rustlers Flame Grilled Cheese BurgerNoNoContains no palm oil**
Food Cupboard: Kinder Bueno Milk and HazelnutYesNoContains palm oil**
Food Cupboard: Pot Noodle Chicken & Mushroom YesNoContains palm oil**
Household: Peril Non Bio Washing LiquidNoContains Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Ingredients potentially derived from palm
Household: Surf Tropical Lily Washing PowderNoNoContains no palm oil**
Drinks: Galaxy Instant Hot ChocolateYesContains palm fatContains palm oil**
Drinks: Pepsi MaxNoNoContains no palm oil**
Bakery: Warburtons Toastie Thick Sliced Soft White Bread YesContains sustainable palm oilContains palm oil**
Bakery: Iceland Thick Tiger Bloomer BreadNoNoContains no palm oil**



As Iceland don’t sell cosmetics, we headed to Superdrug to look at their best sellers. Again, we used the ingredients lists available on the product page of Superdrug, or consulted the brand’s own page if needed.

ProductPalm oil clearly listed in ingredients? Palm oil referred to by a different name in ingredient?Result
Face: NYX Professional Makeup Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Foundation – Light IvoryNoContains Caprylyl GlycolIngredients potentially derived from palm
Face: NYX Professional Makeup Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Concealer – Neutral BuffNoContains EthylhexylglycerinIngredients potentially derived from palm
Lip: Revolution Rose Gold Lipstick Chauffeur NoContains Ethylhexyl PalmitateContains palm oil**
Lip: Nyx Professional Makeup Candy Stick Lip – Birthday SprinklesNoContains GlycerinIngredients potentially derived from palm
Eyes: MUA Eyeshadow Palette – Elysium NoNoContains no palm oil**
Eyes: Max Factor Rise & Shine Mascara BlackNoContains glycerolIngredients potentially derived from palm
Washing & Bathing: Palmolive Gourmet Vanilla Pleasure Shower Gel Cream NoContains Cocamidopropyl BetaineIngredients potentially derived from palm
Washing & Bathing: Imperial Leather Cosmic Unicorn Shower Gel NoContains Sodium Laureth SulfateIngredients potentially derived from palm
Shampoo: TRESemme Moisture Rich Luxurious Moisture ShampooNoContains Sodium Laureth SulfateIngredients potentially derived from palm
Shampoo: Herbal Essences Bio:Renew Shampoo Argan Oil of MoroccoNoContains Sodium Laureth SulfateIngredients potentially derived from palm

*As of 4th March 2019

**According to ingredient list research — potentially used under another name.

The outcome

In total, this small example shopping list had 22 items on it. Seven items did not appear to contain any form of palm oil. 15 items in total either contained or potentially contained palm oil-based ingredients. That’s a whopping 68% of our example shopping list that could rely on palm oil.


Obviously, palm oil is still a firm favourite for the supermarket shelves and many brands across various sectors. Even if you’re seeking to live a greener, healthier life, it’s easy to get caught out by the numerous different names for palm oil as an ingredient. In order to truly help with the planet’s health, we must remember to be vigilant across all areas of climate change contributors, from plastic in the sea to deforestation, and not just whatever the current environmental trend is today. It’s an ongoing change we all need to be a part of in order to see success.




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