I’ve had a few people ask about what “palm free” soap is and why we make it. I decided to write a blog post about it to give you a better understanding of the issues surrounding palm oil, and why we choose not to use palm oil or its derivatives in our products. I’ve included a list of references at the bottom of the post, in case you would like to read more about the subject.
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil obtained from the fruit of the African oil palm tree. Its popularity is owing to the fact that it’s cheap to produce and relatively stable compared to unsaturated vegetable oils—meaning it doesn’t turn rancid as quickly. The oil palm trees are native to Western Africa, but they can grow wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. Over the last hundred years or so, palm oil plantations have expanded eastward into Indonesia and Malaysia, having a devastating effect on the environment, wildlife, and indigenous people.
Widespread clear cutting of the rainforests has driven several species to the brink of extinction, including the orangutan. Over 90% of orangutan habitat has been destroyed in the past 20 years, and is now considered a “conservation emergency” by the UN. Rainforests also absorb massive amounts of the world’s carbon dioxide and help to reduce the effects of worldwide climate change. When palm oil companies clear cut and burn the rainforests, it means they are not only destroying the “lungs of the planet”, but are sending additional greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere while doing so.
Palm oil plantations also have an effect on indigenous people, as the oil companies threaten and harass natives on their land. Watch The Sustainability Lie on YouTube for examples of this. Also in that video, it shows how waterways have become polluted from the processing of the oil.
You can find palm oil and its derivatives in any number of products, from food to fuel to personal care products. This ingredient can be sneaky, as it isn’t always clearly labelled as “palm”. Take a quick look at packaged foods and cosmetics in your home, and see how common these names are:
- glyceryl stearate, stearic acid
- cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, cetearyl olivate, cetrimonium chloride
- sodium lauryl sulphate, sodium lauroyl sucroate
- capric triglyceride, caprylic acid
- sodium palmitate, palmitic acid, palm kernelate
- glycerine, glyceryl oleate
- carnauba wax
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but everything in the above list has almost certainly been derived from palm oil. There are palm-free alternatives to some of them, and I do my best to track those alternatives down for use in my products. One soapmaker isn’t going to stop the destruction of the rainforests, but if I can make even a tiny difference in my corner of the world, I’m going to try.
If you’d like to learn more about palm oil and its effects on the planet, please visit Say No to Palm Oil, or any of the other references below.