health · Singapore

Ways to beat the haze. Well, actually just one – sustainability.

Are you loving the haze? Yes, I think NO ONE is.

In my last post, I wrote about caring for the environment.

Ever since the start of the haze this year, I have been reading more about palm oil. My interest in it started when we drove up to Trengganu, Malaysia in June for a holiday. I have not been to Trengganu for maybe 15 years, and I was surprised to see that rubber plantations have been overtaken by palm oil plantations for miles. And miles.

Not long after, on a flight descending into Changi International Airport, I was surprised to see remote pieces of land along the coast (I think it was Malaysia) with rows and rows of neatly planted palm oil. Everywhere. So I started to read up more.

And since there are many blog posts on how to beat the haze, which actually are more about how to avoid the haze, here’s a post on how really to get to the root of the problem.

To get an overview on the haze and palm oil, you can read about it on Wikipedia, head to the WWF (that’s World Wildlife Fund), or this website albeit written by a 19 year old boy. There is also the People’s Movement to Stop the Haze, which is full of information as well.

After you’ve read that, now you know that palm oil is not the problem, since it is a high yield product that makes better use of the land than other products. So boycotting products with palm oil in them, which ranges from toothpaste to food to furniture, isn’t a viable option.

The problem, rather, is the way that palm oil is being managed by humans. Unscrupulous deforestation for commercial profit and poor management of land has resulted in the worst haze for Singapore in history, but this is not just a problem that affects us. With rapid deforestation, the biodiversity and ecosystems are affected. You can read more about worldwide deforestation here, and more specifically regarding Indonesia, here.

Some people ask, why don’t farmers just stop the burning? Well, because it’s not as simple as that? Imagine yourself as a poor farmer, struggling to feed your family. Would you be interested in ensuring the habitat of orangutans, or finding money for food? Or even an official who relies on kickbacks?

So then what can we do? The Union of Concerned Scientists have also published their more American-centric 2015 Palm Oil Scorecard. They show clearly whether companies have a strong commitment to sustainable palm oil, or not, to help you make more informed choices.

For example,

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 9.57.34 pm

Nestle has been one of the highest rated packaged food manufacturers with a strong commitment to sustainable palm oil, so that means you can continue buying your Kit Kat, Milo, Maggi, and other Nestle products with peace of mind. Except this scoring has nothing to do with preservatives and too much sugar, so you’re on your own for that! 😀

WWF also work with RSPO, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, is a certification body setting the standard of sustainable palm oil, and regularly publish scorecards of organisations. You can see the latest 2013 Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard here. RSPO have detractors, but I find their scorecards a simple way for consumers to understand which companies are headed in the right direction.

With knowledge comes power, and now that the people are more aware of sustainable palm oil, we are able to put pressure on manufacturers to move toward sustainable palm oil. The recent news of all the large supermarkets pulling products from a less responsible producer off their shelves is certainly a move in the right direction, and I hope to see more organisations following in the footsteps.

As for the farmers, well, money talks. If organisations insist and are willing to pay farmers to grow in a more sustainable manner, then slowly we will get there. In the meantime, keep calm and mask on. Literally!

 

 

P.s. As with everything you see on the Internet, please read everything with a pinch of salt. I read this article “Getting the facts right on Indonesia’s haze problems” with a little amusement. Perhaps he is right on the facts, but the author’s solutions, even from my very layman point of view, lack an understanding of local customs. Erecting billboards to counter corruption? Totally made me laugh 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Ways to beat the haze. Well, actually just one – sustainability.

  1. As a very layman consumer, let’s take the example of Nestle and Milo. Even if Nestlé Milo is good to buy, we also know there are fake Nestle Milo in the market. And I doubt fake Milo cares much about using sustainable palm oil. And I have no way of differentiating real and fake milo on the shelves. All these issues just make me want to pull my hair out. I remember seeing the news that NTUC was removing products that did not use sustainbale palm oil from their shelves or something like that? I’m not trying to shirk from responsibility as a consumer, but to expect all consumers to go look up every single product they want to buy seems impractical. I hope the supermarket giants will do their part in filtering products they put on their shelves.

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    1. Yes you are right. Some products are RSPO certified but I have never even seen the logo on any products (actually I haven’t gone to look out for it lah). Many of the large manufacturers, Nestle, Unilever, P&G are all heading towards sustainability and have the clout to pressure plantations. So buying their products are “safer” in a sense, and there is a wide range to choose from.

      NTUC removed all products from Asia Pulp & Paper whose subsidiaries are practicing irresponsible burning. They make Paseo tissue paper.

      I didn’t know there was fake Milo!!

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