Source: The Asian Parent Singapore

This landscape has become unfortunately familiar in the last couple of decades. While it hasn’t hit the 400 PSI high in a few years, the familiar acrid smell of burning still haunts us from time to time. We all know the detrimental effects of the haze, but what has it got to do with food and sustainable living? Well, we first have to take a deeper look into the cause of the haze to find out.

The Origins of the Haze

If you kept up with the news of the haze over the years, you’ll probably have heard that the primary cause is the slash-and-burn practices in agriculture. In recent decades, the rapid propagation of the palm and paper industry have caused these once controlled burnings to rapidly increase in scale, resulting in the haze that we experience today.

Palm Oil Industry

The main problem we’re talking about here today is the palm oil industry. Palm oil is one of the most widely-used oils in the world. It’s used not just in the food industry, but also in cosmetics, fuel, and soaps.

That might come as a surprise to you since we don’t really see ‘palm oil’ being sold on shelves in the supermarkets. We do, however, find vegetable oil, with the most common type of vegetable oil being (you guessed it) palm oil. In fact, a survey conducted by PMHaze found that out of 33 restaurants and fast food chains surveyed, 32 of them were using palm oil.

Here’s the problem. The rapidly increasing demand of palm oil in recent decades have led to unsustainable agricultural practices in obtaining the product. Clearing copious amounts of land to build palm plantations have caused not only the haze, but also destroyed habitats, increased carbon, and ultimately, climate change.

Aftermath of slash-and-burn methods of clearing land for palm plantations. Source: World Finance

Many wildlife, like this Orangutan here, have been orphaned or displaced due to the rampant burning of forests. Source: Paulina L. Ela, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation

Before we delve deeper into this topic, let us just put it out here and say that boycotting palm oil is not the solution. The very reason palm oil has been used so commonly at all is because it is one of the cheapest and most resource-efficient forms of vegetable oils. The palm oil industry also provides millions of jobs, most of which are to small farmers who live on the edge of the poverty line.

Sustainable Palm Oil

If boycotting palm oil isn’t the solution, what then? Well, demand drives supply, but the type of demand makes a world of difference.

Introducing the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Established in 2004, the RSPO promotes the sustainable production of palm oil. They have stringent measures to ensure that the palm oil produced is though sustainable means that complies with their 8 RSPO principles and criteria. Should the palm oil produced meet the criteria, it will be awarded with their trademark logo, certifying that the palm oil has been produced using sustainable methods.

You’re probably starting to get an idea of where I’m going with this. In the same way that you sometimes look out for the ‘healthier choice’ symbols when making your grocery shopping decisions, perhaps start to look out for the RSPO symbol as well. Eating out in a restaurant where they provide feedback forms, perhaps suggest that they start using sustainable palm oil as well.

As of this year (2018), 19 F&B companies in Singapore have pledged to use RSPO-certified palm oil in their operations. This is only a fraction of all the F&B outlets in Singapore. It’s a start, but so much more can be done.

Remember: Demand drives supply. If we all choose to take a small step and raise the demand for sustainably-produced palm oil, it could very well make a difference. The Zero Ways is all about little steps. Just like how we are reducing plastic waste one straw at a time, let us also reduce our carbon footprint one litre of oil at a time.

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