23

There is a valid fuss and concern about palm oil for a few reasons. To myself the main concern is the destruction of ecology and habitat for species in the countries which are increasingly producing palm oil.

Should I have the same concern about coconut oil and other coconut products or do they have a lesser impact?

  • 1
    What kind of destruction of ecology do you mean? Building plantations or pure harvesting does the harm? – Peter Ivan Oct 21 '13 at 6:07
  • removal of natural habitat for plants,animals, fungi etc – Sdry Nov 5 '13 at 7:32
  • With palm oil, a lot of it depends on where it comes from. According to Wikipedia, African palm oil is mostly produced by small-time farmers and is generally more sustainable than the stuff from Malaysia or Indonesia (though they are working on it.) Another thing to think about, although it might not be totally on-topic: there are concerns about unfair wages, unsafe work environments, and child labor in the harvest of both kinds of oil even when they are "sustainable" in the environmental sense. – Yumecosmos May 2 '14 at 14:35
  • I grew up surrounded by coconut trees in my native state of Kerala. The trees had been there before my parents were born, and are still there to this day. Every year in summer there would be a mountain of coconuts in our backyard. Coconut trees also don't need tending and grow naturally in some places, look at the map of kerala, it's blanketed in coconut trees. The falling palms are also dried and used as firewood, and the tree pits are used for garbage (free fertilizer), and the long leaves are used to weave fences and other things. To me it seems a much more eco-friendly option – psykeron Nov 12 '18 at 9:22
14

There is a lot of information and research on how the production of palm oil has severe negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (for example this paper, this paper and wikipedia). However, I have found that reliable information on how coconut oil is produced is rather scarce. There are several claims about why oil from coconut trees (cocos nucifera) is more sustainable than oil from oil palms (elaeis guineensis), but if have not been able to find any scientific evidence for those claims.

The main reasoning seems to be that many coconut palms are not grown in large plantations, so no rain forests have been removed for them. Although coconut plantations exists, I haven't been able to find any reports that rainforests have been cleared to create those coconut plantations.

Some people also report other benefits of coco trees over palm trees, but most of these claims are difficult to prove. For example on this page (archived version) it is claimed that coconut trees:

  1. are considerably easy to replace
  2. grow in almost any kind of soil, even sandy beaches
  3. live and bear fruit for up to more than sixty years (other sources say 60-80 years)

However, the author doesn't really compare coco oil with palm oil and according to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board oil palm has a much higher oil yield per hectare per year than coconut palms, so that would actually be in favor of palm oil from a sustainability viewpoint.

Conclusion: there are indications that coconut oil is more sustainable than palm oil, mainly because no rainforests have been cleared for the production of coconut oil, but it is difficult to find any hard evidence.

  • 3
    "Up to more than 60 years" literally includes every value from 0 to infinity. This source gives a range of 60-80 years. Also, the Ecos link is now broken. – LShaver Jan 10 '17 at 16:53
  • Thanks for your comment. I fixed the broken links and added the source you found to my answer. – THelper Jan 11 '17 at 9:25
14

A presentation about the environmental costs of oil production (by Dr. Dumelin, here - direct download!) reveals that coconut oil performs worse than palm oil in some commonly assessed impact categories (namely energy requirement, global warming potential and land use) while it performs better in others (namely acidification and eutrophication impact):

enter image description here

PO = palmoil, CN = coconut oil; for these two oils data originates from Malaysian farms

Importance of the product stages. In a separate report by the same author it is revealed that the agriculture and processing stage, rather than transport, contribute most to the total environmental burden of palm and coconut oil in nearly all impact categories (with the exception of photochemical smog). (Dumelin 2009)

Why have both oils comparatively small impacts? "[The] very high yields per hectare that are obtained from palm plantations" (Dumelin 2009) are the reason why this oil performs so well overall. Compared to other oils also "coconut oil has very low impacts because very low levels of pesticides are used and most farm operations are carried out by hand so very little fuel is consumed" (Dumelin 2009).

A note about life cycle assessments. Please be aware that the selection of impact categories is up to the author of a life cycle study (as is also pointed out in the presentation)! That means that some impact categories with a surprisingly high contribution may have been (accidentally) excluded from analysis. It is further subjective on how much value is assigned to each category and if, for example, the clearance of rain forest is rated to be more harmful than the clearance of temperate forest (as THelper mentioned). This problem however is valid for all life cycle assessments. The most commonly analysed impact categories (global warming, energy requirements, acidification and eutrophication impact and land use) are presented in this study, so it seems fairly reliable.

In short, the production of palm oil seems to require less energy, emits less greenhouse gases and uses less space than the production of coconut oil. However, more substances are emitted that contribute to acidification and eutrophication.

Reference
Dumelin E 2009: The Environmental Impact of Palm Oil and Other Vegetable Oils** (** Reproduced from the paper presented at the SCI (Society of Chemical Industry) Conference on ‘Palm Oil–the Sustainable 21st Century Oil - Food, Fuel & Chemicals’ at London, 23-24 March 2009.)

  • Please don't hesitate to ask for clarification if the answer is too technical! – Stockfisch Oct 30 '13 at 10:40
  • Excellent answer. Have not read the pdf you've referenced yet, does it go into detail on the land use difference between PO and CN ? that's quite a difference. – Sdry Oct 30 '13 at 10:46
  • @Sdry Unfortunately it doesn't. There is a remark that palm oil yields are very high per hectare (I added it to the answer) but thats it. – Stockfisch Oct 30 '13 at 11:03
  • 2
    Very interesting presentation! Two things I'd like to note: on page 13 it says that the coconut data is "from Malaysia" which is one of the largest palm oil producers in the world, so I am a bit worried that this data is biased. Also, if I understand it correctly, biodiversity and pesticides are not taken into acount and biodiversity where palm oil scores very badly. Other than that, great info! – THelper Oct 30 '13 at 11:23
  • @THelper Absolutely right. Both, palm oil and coconut oil originate from Malaysia. And biodiversity loss is not taken into account (as far as I know there is no advanced methodology to combine with life cycle assessments yet besides some half meaningful indicators like "species lost per year"). Maybe I should point that out in the answer but you covered that point thoroughly. – Stockfisch Oct 30 '13 at 12:34
3

Regarding the environmental impact of vegetable oils vs butter, I would have liked to agree (and my stomach as well) but the research disagrees. Butter gets a lower environmental score than oil based fats, even when butter from France is compared to the "worse case scenario" for Palm Oil.

Two important quotes from the study:

"For palm oil the impact of a worst case scenario including potential contributions from direct land use change (assuming transformed forest land, 50% in Malaysia and 50% in Indonesia, using data from PAS 2050 (2008)), cultivation on peat soils (assuming that approximately 4% of palm is cultivated on peat, Schmidt 2007) and contributions from the POME waste fraction (Schmidt 2007) in the palm oil and palm kernel oil data was analysed. In this scenario the GWP of the margarine products still does not exceed 50% of the GWP from the “best” butter (French)."

"In summary, two major factors determine the environmental impact of the butters and margarines: 1. The origin of the fat (milk or vegetable and for the latter which type of vegetable oil) 2. The fat content. This is because for all impact categories and all products, the agricultural stage contributes most to the overall impact of the product (with the exception of POCP for margarine). The environmental impact of milk at the farm gate is higher than the impact of producing oil crops, mainly due to the impact of methane emissions from enteric fermentation in cows’ digestive systems, the production or feed for dairy cows and also the emissions from manure handling."

3

I think this is such a complex topic, the general person on the street (without sufficient background, education etc.) doesn't understand the impact of both oils. When coconut oil was first cultivated, a lot of natural habitat was destroyed (as every type of agricultural process). But there wasn't such an awareness of ecological impacts via social media etc. It seems that people have jumped on a band-wagon that palm fruit oil is unacceptable without actually understanding where coconut oil comes from. Information, articles and photos of deforestation is readily available that created an informed consumer, but when coconut plantations were being cultivated there wasn't yet social media to point out the impact. Not all coconut plantations are sustainable, very few agricultural practices are sustainable.
The best option is to promote sustainable farming, both of the coconut and palm fruit plantations.

  • 2
    Hello there, and welcome to the site. I think what you've written here is spot on. The thing is, it doesn't directly answer the question. And because we're a question & answer site, rather than a discussion forum, answers really ought to directly tackle the question as asked. Would you like to edit your answer to add something that does that? – EnergyNumbers Jul 15 '14 at 11:13
2

Another point that is noteworthy is the transport factor. Assuming you live in the Belgium both coco oil and palm oil have a fairly long distance to travel before reaching the store. From this perspective coco oil probably still has a fairly high impact.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Coconut_distribution.png

This being said I don't know much about production of oil grown in temperate climate (sunflower, rapeseed etc.), it might be that the energy in transport is offset by less energy consumption in the production process.

0

Every food source comes with some complexities when considering the source, impact and price. This article includes details around the popular practice of macaques exploited to pick coconuts.

It would appear that, for macaques, coconut oil has a greater negative ecological impact because of the above exploitation by humans when contrasted against research by Matthew Luskin of the University of California at Berkely that indicates that macaques (along with wild pigs) actually benefit from and thrive amidst oil palm expansion.

(As you get closer to a particular region the details of ecosystems and cultures come into focus and some broader or higher level measurements might need to be rethought. Complexity or some specific concerns present themselves much like measuring a coastline at ever-increasing resolutions. I present my answer to provide a concern for those who weigh the disturbance and exploitation of animals much more heavily in their ecological assessment. Also, because species and wildlife ecology were mentioned broadly, I see no need to rule out the person posting the question or others investigating the topic placing a priority on specific wildlife ecology and macaques in particular.)

  • 2
    Interesting, but not really related to the question. – Sdry Oct 11 '15 at 20:01
  • Though it might be trivial to some, I included this as an illustration of a qualitative ecological impact that might not be commonly considered in typical quantitative calculations. An industry's impact on wildlife either through habitat destruction, endangering rare species or, in this case, the use/exploitation of animals might be weighted more heavily in some individual's considerations when determining how they decide to measure ecological impact of a consumer good. A vegan probably has a different notion of ecological impact than a meat eater. – jmmygoggle Mar 15 '16 at 4:27
  • Your answer is in another castle – Jan Doggen May 10 '17 at 11:37
  • Please include at least a summary of the contents at the page you link in your answer. This protects against broken, changed, or removed links. – LShaver May 20 '17 at 14:52
  • Per Jan's request I have added an explicit answer in this castle. The relevant contents from the article are summarized as "macaques exploited to pick coconuts" and the link to details is provided as supplementary edification and means for verification to the curious. – jmmygoggle May 23 '17 at 11:46
0

People are completely mistaken about palm oil. This is the most efficient way of producing fat matter for use in cooking. Look at the yields of different oil-producing plants. Nowadays, as a consequence of this productive efficiency, palm has been chosen and become the most common crop for oil production and it has good properties for cooking purposes, so it is grown on most (necessarily deforested) surfaces for oil production purpose. But if you used a less efficient oil plant (sunflower, coconut, olive, canola, safflower, you name it) you would deforest more. The situation would be much worse than with palmtree. So palm oil is a blessing for ecology and the question of reducing deforestation due to our food needs is whether we should eat less fatty food. It is clearly ridiculous to go for palmoil-free spreads of all kind, if you do you are behaving less environment-friendly than with palmoil ones, you promote deforestation compared to palmoil spreads.

It is really quite astounding how simple and wrong people's reasonings are, given how radically aggressive their ensuing decisions and behavior are against palm oil. There is a big prolem with media lacking any form of humility, believing self-righteous to impose their opinion on people, and people then relaying that.

EDIT: Yield numbers

More Yield numbers

Don't hesitate to search google if you doubt. But it is quite intuitive that if people grow so much palm it's because there are simple reasons and yield must be very high. Again, if you tell me that americans should eat less fat I would agree heartily but if you just want to replace palm oil with any other, keeping other things unchanged you are going to hurt our ecology badly. This is what people usually propose, switching to other oils than palm, and this is just plainly silly; this was my point and it still is, now critics of my answer should look at their navel a little critically. Can you make a point against me apart from exerting your power downvoting my post?

  • 2
    You are not answering the question. Also, adding some references for your statements would help. For instance, you are comparing palm and sunflower on deforested surfaces, but sunflowers can be raised in many more climate areas then palm. This issue is not so simple that it can be answered with an opinion in two paragraphs. Especially not if that opinion is as blunt as People are completely mistaken. – Jan Doggen May 10 '17 at 11:33
  • I think this is an interesting perspective (including caloric content of food when considering ecological impact) but as @JanDoggen said, you need to include some references to support your viewpoint. – LShaver May 20 '17 at 14:50
  • @ Jan Doggen Well if you feel like howling with the wolves (or with the sheeps) that palm oil is bad I can't really do much. Yes I do not give references (which a few words search in google will provide). Yes my opinion is blunt because I am upset to see crowds ignorant of science repeat biased opinions like they were chasing witches. I will add reference. Regarding the answer to the OP's question it is there: coconut oil has greater impact on the Earth than palm, per unit (liter, m^3, etc.) oil produced. – plm Jun 23 '17 at 1:33
-2

I have chosen to embrace coconut oil over palm oil for MCT's deliberately because the creation of coconuts also creates coco husks which are amazingly excellent at hydroponic media, and can be directly used for more farming.

Further, the meat of the coconut is carbohydrate, when combined with greens like kale and chia seed in a proportion of 4 fat to 1 (carbohydrate + protein), allows proper vegan weight management that really works wonders on the restoration of morbidly obese people who do not know the magic, technology, and chemistry of the vegan alkaline ketosis restoration of morbidly obese people to functional normalcy.

Once someone finds out, they never go back. The only way to get the acidic meat and bad fat and harsh cheetos dye which has become the adipose tissue of the morbidly obese people, is to reverse the acidic fat storage process by becoming an alkaline, primarily ketosis-based metabolism on conjunction with vegan kale/broccoli consumption. Once morbidly obese Americans find out that they can reverse their "death culture cheeseburger obesity" with sustainable, green, healthy vegan carbs, there will be a tremendous upsurge in coconut oil farms, kale farms, broccoli farms, and hopefully this planet-killing madness can stop. Palm oil plantations wreck the last ecological zones for orangutans and Sumatran rhinos.

  • 1
    Only your first paragraph is relevant to the question, and in its current form 'just an opinion'. Can you back it up with references? – Jan Doggen May 10 '17 at 11:40

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