The palm oil problem: Is a lab grown alternative the solution?
The fight against unsustainable palm oil production isn’t new. Any eco-conscious consumer will have seen various campaigns discouraging the purchase of products that contain palm oil due to the phenomenal environmental consequences. But the reality is, almost half of the products on the shelves in your local supermarket will contain palm oil.
So globally we know there’s a major problem with palm oil production, but what is the solution? How about a bio-manufactured alternative?
Before we delve into the possible solution, let’s first outline the problem:
What is palm oil?
Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world.
It’s a highly versatile ingredient that is found in nearly 50% of supermarket products, from chocolate to laundry detergent. The sought-after product is sourced from an oil palm tree, with each oil palm producing 40 kilograms of oil every year. Oil palms grow best around the equator with Indonesia and Malaysia providing 85% of global production.
Palm oil is widely used within consumer products - it’s in everything from soap and shampoo to lipstick and packaged foods. However, palm oil hides under different names on ingredient labels, making it challenging to know which products contain palm oil. A chemical compound is likely derived from palm if it includes the roots,Laur-, Stear-, Palm-, or Cety-.
What is the environmental impact of palm oil?
Over the past 50 years, the palm oil industry has seen rapid expansion and is now a global industry valued at over $60 billion.
To meet this growing global demand, palm oil plantations have expanded, resulting in a biodiversity crisis in communities from South America to Asia. With deforestation wiping out rainforests at an unsustainable rate, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and destroying natural habitats, the palm oil industry is recognised as one the most damaging across the globe.
Whilst many conservation initiatives are fighting for more sustainable production, some producers in the palm oil industry have been found to illegally burn carbon-rich tropical rainforests and peatland to clear the land for oil palm plantations. It’s estimated that this illegal conversion produces 1.5 billion tons of carbon each year.
The threat to livelihoods and ecosystems is something that has been widely reported for the last decade or so, but without a viable alternative available many production lines still heavily rely on this controversial ingredient.
What is the alternative to palm oil?
In an exciting announcement in November, American laboratory C16 Biosciences launched a viable palm oil alternative called Palmless™.
C16 Biosciences, which bio-manufactures next-generation oils and fats, achieved the first industrial scale fermentation of the Palmless™ Torula oil - a significant operational milestone since it started its search for a sustainable alternative in 2018. With plans to bring Palmless™ to market in 2023 and following recent backing from Bill Gates, the momentum behind the innovation is rapidly growing.
What is Palmless™?
Palmless™ is a bio designed oil made from the fermentation of natural fungal ingredients. It’s rich in carotenoids and sterols and is being hailed as ‘beauty’s new super-ingredient’. It’s one of the first sustainable alternatives to be produced to such a scale. It doesn’t involve deforestation, cause threat to animal species, or force inhumane labour practices.
Exciting innovations are also being developed closer to home, with UK-based food tech start-up Clean Food Group making big steps toward launching a yeast-based palm oil alternative. Developed by scientists at the University of Bath, the group recently gained financial backing from German ingredients supplier Doehler and is looking to scale up production of its lab-grown ingredient. They hope to displace palm oil by bringing a range of more sustainable products to the market.
The reason both C16 Biosciences andClean Food Group’s innovations are deemed viable is due to them being bioequivalent to palm oil. This means they deliver the same nutrition, performance, and versatility.
Here at Amaranthine, we always strive to choose natural and sustainable ingredients. Our products are always palm oil free, so with Amaranthine you know your skincare ritual is sustainable. In fact, we are proud to be the first skincare company in the world to receive a Palm Oil Free Certification Trademark. You can read more about Amaranthine’s view on the campaign against palm oil.
Whilst natural ingredients will always be our focus, we’re excited to see if a functional, lab-grown alternative will become available as a replacement for palm oil. More sustainable options would allow us to formulate new products that provide incredible skin benefits, whilst helping to eradicate the phenomenal environmental impact of such a large global market.
Looking for palm oil free skincare products that are made from natural and sustainable ingredients? Explore our range to build your perfect skincare ritual.
*Information sourced from c16bio.com and gopalmless.com