If you’ve ever shopped at a grocery store, chances are you’ve consumed palm oil. A cheap and easily produced vegetable oil once used in napalm, palm oil is now an ingredient found in about half of the foods and household goods we buy every day. It is the most popular vegetable oil in the world, with around 54 million tons produced in 2011, and the chances are good that at least a few things you picked up on your last trip to the store contained palm oil, even if you didn’t see palm oil listed on the label.

To meet such high demand, vast expanses of tropical forests and peat bogs are cleared out every year to make room for palm oil plantations. In fact, it is estimated that about 98 percent of Malaysian and Indonesian rainforests may be gone by 2022. Such widespread deforestation is only the first link in a devastating chain reaction which includes massive loss of biodiversity, destruction of critical habitats, soil erosion, pollution, and climate change. Plus, human and animal rights have both been violated in the name of palm oil production. Native peoples are forced off of their own lands, and local endangered species such as orangutans, elephants, and tigers are routinely shot and killed as pests.

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By cutting down on your palm oil usage as much as possible, you can help reduce the demand for the product and, by extension, the widespread damage inherent in harvesting it. Here’s how you can do it.

1. Check the Labels – and Recheck Them

While avoiding food products that list palm oil as an ingredient is a great first step, the labeling process these days is a little more complicated than that. There’s a long list of alternate names for palm oil and its derivatives that companies like to use in order to avoid actually admitting their product may contain dirty palm oil. Visit the WWF website to learn more about labeling and the products most likely to contain palm oil.

If you’re in a hurry or having a hard time memorizing all of that, it might be helpful to instead keep tabs on which companies are living up to their environmental standards (and which may be cutting corners with dirty oil). You can do this by keeping an eye out for reports like the Greenpeace survey conducted earlier this year or WWF’s Palm Oil Buyers scorecards, which took detailed looks at exactly how well certain companies were living up to their promises. You can also check out this list of the top 10 planet-unfriendly companies to avoid, many of which have invested in dirty palm oil.

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2. Opt for DIY Alternatives

The best way to know what a product contains is to make it yourself. By choosing the DIY versions of household goods and foods, you can avoid palm oil and make healthier, budget-friendlier choices in your everyday life. Check out our list of palm oil-free alternatives for everything from baking to cleaning to personal hygiene. And, if you happen to have a sweet tooth or suffer a sudden snack craving, say no to prepackaged foods (which are the most likely place to find palm oil!) in favor of tasty, guilt-free recipes like this recipe for vegan puff pastries, or this one for a vegan Nutella spread.

3. Speak Up

By taking action to stop the use of dirty palm oil and raise awareness, you’ll be more motivated to stick to your guns and cut the stuff out of your life for good – plus, you’ll inspire others to follow your good example! And, if enough people raise their voices against dirty palm oil, eventually companies will be forced to take the hint and change their ways.

Help raise awareness by spreading the word about dirty palm oil through social media and word of mouth and lend your voice to the fight by visiting the Say No to Palm Oil challenge for a list of petitions and volunteer actions you can take to support the cause.

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Lead image source: Shutterstock