Recently, I was on a quest to find some handcrafted soap that was free of Palm Oil. It amazed me how few manufacturers, from the smallest to the largest are still using Palm Oil in the U.S. I could find many handcrafted soap makers in Australia and Europe but not here. I am happy to say I was able to find an amazing company, Unearth Malee. Not only are their soaps free of Palm oil, but they use organic ingredients, and no synthetic fragrance. This is not a review of their products but I did want to give them a shout out.
You may be asking yourselves, why are you so against Palm Oil?
Palm oil from the oil palm tree is a high quality versatile oil. However, it grows only in the tropics where it has had a disastrous effect on the environment. According to the environmental group Friends of the Earth, it is estimated that 87 percent of Malaysia’s deforestation was due to palm oil plantations. Their researchers also estimated that if nothing is done to alleviate the rising rates of deforestation, orangutans could become extinct within 12 years. The palm oil trade is destroying orangutan habitats, endangering other rain forest animals, contributing to the high levels of carbon emissions, and has placed Indonesia as possibly having the world’s fastest deforestation rate (Greenpeace sources estimate an area equivalent to 300 soccer fields per hour). And according the the World Wildlife Fund "Large areas of tropical forests and other ecosystems with high conservation values have been cleared to make room for vast monoculture oil palm plantations – destroying critical habitat for many endangered species, including rhinos, elephants and tigers. In some cases, the expansion of plantations has lead to the eviction of forest-dwelling peoples."
In 2004 The World Wildlife Federation and teamed up with the Palm Oil Industry and launched RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). Many manufacturers especially small companies proudly state they are using sustainable Palm Oil, however, this is not as benign as many of them think because the rules are riddled with loopholes.
The environmental groups Greenpeace International and Wetlands International argue that such loopholes allows palm oil firms to join RSPO and improve their image despite the fact that very little palm oil has yet been produced according to the sustainability criteria. And The Jakarta-based Center for Orangutan Protection has directly opposed the certification scheme. The group said last year that it found two RSPO member companies clear-cutting forests that were home to orangutans, sun bears, and Borneo gibbons. "It has been six years after RSPO was put into operation but forests are still cleared and orangutans are continually killed," said Novi Hardianto, the Center's habitat program coordinator, in a press release. "All criteria on sustainable palm oil and certification process are merely public lies."
Because of it's versatility, Palm oil is used in so many products, ranging from margarine, cereals, sweets and baked goods, to soaps, washing powders and cosmetics. (If you are a vegan and use products by Earth Balance beware that they use Palm Oil in many of their products.) And you have to practice due diligence if this concerns you, because often times it is listed as an ingredient on product labels, with the term ‘vegetable oil’ often being used instead.
So, please practice consumer awareness and I hope that the next time you are shopping think about who and what will be affected by that product.