October 31st is fast approaching and let’s be honest: whether you expect to have trick-or-treaters or not, we’re all going to buy a big bag of Halloween candy anyway. (I think we earned it by living through a pandemic).

Read on to see what constitutes sustainable Halloween candy and exactly which big brand candies make the cut.

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The pros and cons of palm oil

The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans spend around $2.6 billion annually on Halloween candy. Palm oil can be found in 50% of home products including chocolate, peanut butter, pet food, and much more. This resource is controversial because its production contributes to mass deforestation and biodiversity loss in tropical regions, especially Malaysia, Indonesia and parts of South America.

Bobbi Miller, Field Conservation Manager at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, is making palm oil a focus of the zoo’s conservation efforts. She believes consumers should focus on buying responsibly sourced palm oil rather than boycotting it all together.

Palm Oil Pros

“The issue is cutting down forests, not necessarily palm oil,” Miller said. “When you stack (palm oil) up against other oils its by far the most productive, but its grown in such a narrow band. It produces for up to 25 years and can be replanted in the same place.”

This resource is incredibly efficient in terms of land use. Palm oil trees use up to nine times less land to produce the same amount of oil as soybeans and corn.

Palm Oil Cons

However, the trees grow only in tropical regions — between 10 degrees north and 10 degrees south — alongside a bulk of the world’s biodiversity. Palm oil gets its destructive reputation from producers that burn peat lands and pristine tropical forests to clear land for monoculture plantations.

This destruction releases carbon back into the atmosphere and devastates wildlife habitat. The most notable victims include orangutans, Malaysian tigers and Asian elephants, but countless plants and animal species are negatively affected.

The Orangutan Foundation International estimates that the three known species of orangutans have experienced up to 97% population loss since 1903. Deforestation takes away their mode of transportation and destroys their inventory of food-producing trees.

“In a tropical forest, some of those fruiting trees don’t fruit every year,” said Miller, who grows as much of her own food as her shady little garden allows. “Orangutans have a mental map of what trees are fruiting when. Cutting down those forests takes away that food source and screws up their mental map.”

Finding Halloween candy made with sustainable palm oil

Method one: buy candy from Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) members. Companies from a wide range of industries have become RSPO members by committing to using certified, sustainable palm oil. The Woodland Park Zoo, a voting member of the RSPO, recommends buying Halloween candy from the members listed below.

Screenshot of RSPO candy companies listed on the Woodland Park Zoo website. Taken October 2020.

Not a bad list of Halloween candy, eh? Most of the major players are here: Hershey’s, Mars/Wrigley, Ghirardelli, Nabisco.

***It’s worth noting that Nestle is on the list, but has only taken “the minimum steps toward sourcing wildlife-friendly palm oil.” (And they’re already on our sh*t list for pumping out bottled water.)

Method 2: Miller recommends using the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping app to make shopping easier. The app was produced by a consortium of zoos, including Woodland Park.

“You can go to the store, scan a barcode and it gives you a red, yellow or green. It will tell you whether the brand is a member of RSPO and if they are following the guidelines,” Miller said. “It’s updated constantly and extremely current – it’s a very easy thing to do to support those companies.”

In addition, Miller said the app and the list are great ways for people to dip their toes into environmental consumerism.

“We want people to know that simple actions do add up in the face of this daunting crisis,” Miller said. “Just take that little baby step and see where it takes you.”

Visit the Woodland Park Zoo’s website for more information regarding sustainable palm oil.

Looking for more sustainable products? Check out the Emeraldology Shop!

Feature photo by Branden Skeli on Unsplash.