Why We STILL Don't Use Palm Oil
Palm oil and palm kernel products are widely used soap ingredients that we refuse to use. Yes, even the "sustainably sourced" version, and here is why. Palm oil and it's derivatives are found in over half of the products in the supermarket, including food, candles, soap, cosmetics, as well as being widely used as a cheaper and "green" fuel source. The good news is that it is a cheap versatile oil and does make inexpensive bubbly soap. The commercial "triple-milled" process does make it a drying soap, but sadly that is what consumers have come to expect from all soap. Or so they think.
By now you may have read about the devastation being caused by this seemingly unquenchable demand for palm oil. The World Wildlife Fund writes "The (palm oil) industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty, and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced….300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil plantations.”
This deforestation and loss of habitat is pushing many native species to extinction. Orangutans, who live only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra (Indonesia), may be extinct in a decade, along with Asian tigers and Asian rhinos. The palm oil mania is causing massive deforestation, and what was mostly limited to Indonesia and Malaysia, this is now spreading to Central/South America and Africa.
The value of wild rainforests is almost too great to comprehend. "Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface; now they cover a mere 6% and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years. One and one-half acres of rainforest are lost every second with tragic consequences for both developing and industrial countries." Tropical rainforests contain at least 50% of all know plant species, 25% of all medicine in use today is derived from plants, with 70% of the plants containing compounds useful in cancer treatment are found only in rainforests. In terms of our planet's health, rain forests recycle more than half of the CO2 produced by humans, turning it into healthy oxygen for us! When trees are cut down and burned (as is required to expand palm oil plantations) or allowed to rot, their stored carbon is released into the air as carbon dioxide. And this is how deforestation and forest degradation contribute to global warming.
Despite the fact that some countries are trying to establish more sustainable approaches to palm oil production, including so-called sustainable certifications, there is still plenty to be worried and suspicious about how the oil is produced. Last March, I had the tremendous honor of meeting the famous orangutan primatologist Dr. Birute Galdikas, and spent time talking with her on the subject of Indonesia and palm oil. While she applauds the recent recognition that unlimited palm oil plantation growth is destructive and completely unsustainable, she is very clear about what sustainability really means. I won't speak for her, but can say that my opinion was confirmed that most of what is classified as "sustainable palm oil" is pure greenwashing. If rain forest is cut down to plant palm oil, it automatically means it is not sustainable. Opinions differ, but we're sure. With 80% of the world's supply still coming from Indonesia and Malaysia, it is naive at best to pretend that it is sustainably sourced.
The beautiful (and tragic) book, The Wasting of Borneo by Alex Shoumatoff, tells the tale of the destruction of 90% of Borneo's lowland forest for logging and palm oil plantations. Dr. Galdikas calls it "one of the greatest conservation tragedies of our time." In my opinion, none of the palm oil coming from rainforest destruction should ever be classified as sustainable.
So the way soap companies are promoting "sustainable palm oil" as an ingredient, one would conclude that it is impossible to make soap without palm oil, right? But in fact, Our Planet Soap knows that great soap can be produced without palm oil, and has been done for a few thousand years! So we didn't have to reinvent the wheel in order to not participate in unsustainable manufacturing. Yes, we do pay considerably more for good olive oil and nut butters like shea and cocoa butter, than we would for palm oil. But given that there is such worldwide demand, we feel that the palm oil industry can survive without this soap maker!
We believe you should have a choice in the sourcing of ingredients and products you buy.
Be an informed consumer. You have to read labels, but because palm oil products have hundreds of different names, such as sodium palmate, palmitic acid, palm kernelate, PKO, elaeis guineensis, sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, etc. Many times, it's just called vegetable oil. It can be tricky! If you want to be your own detective, there are plenty of resources and printable lists online, such as:
The Rainforest Action Network: https://www.ran.org/the-understory/palm_oil_s_dirty_secret_the_many_ingredient_names_for_palm_oil/