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Isn’t using Palm Oil in Soap Destroying the Environment?

Certified Sustainable Palm Oil

Yes, using palm oil in soap that is made from irresponsible palm growers is not a responsible choice for the environment. Poor farming practices is wreaking havoc on people and forests. Big, mega corporations have been buying up rain forest land from indigenous people for decades now. They have cut and burned rainforest to plant oil producing palm trees. The destruction of these environmental paradises not only deprives the world of breathable air but leaves indigenous people landless and powerless. And it leaves countless plants and animals without an environment to exist and pushes them towards extinction.

However, Palm Oil is so cheap to produce and so versatile that it is found in practically every consumer industry from movie popcorn to body lotion. Palm Oil is particularly valuable in soap making. 

Palm Oil in Soap

Soap Makers spend a long time perfecting a combination of oils to give their soap the qualities they consider the best soap ever. Many soap makers will rate their soap by the following qualities. 

  • Hardness
  • Cleaning Ability
  • Conditioning Ability
  • Bubble Amount and Quality
  • Creaminess

Palm Oil and Palm Kernel Oil provide a balance of qualities that other oils do not. For instance, Coconut Oil makes a fantastic hard soap that is very cleansing and bubbly but it’s too cleansing. It is not at all conditioning or creamy.  A pure coconut oil soap will hurt your skin. Olive Oil makes a very gentle, moisturizing soap but doesn’t clean or bubble well and it makes a soap that is too soft. So we tend to try to balance our oils to get ALL the qualities but this is harder then it sounds because some qualities come together. For example, you can’t get a hard soap without it being too cleansing. this is where adding palm oil or palm kernel oil comes in. It often provides a balance of qualities that no other oils can match.

Sustainable Organic Palm Oil

So, shouldn’t we sacrifice quality for the environment? I say yes but I am not convinced that would be good for the environment to do that. It’s very encouraging that so many people want to save the environment, nature and wildlife by buying conscientiously. This trend is very noticeable in the bath and beauty industry. People have been convinced that avoiding all palm oil will prevent the loss of important forests and save endangered beings like the the orangutan. However, this practice is just going to switch the problem to another part of the world, most likely a tropical part of the world.

Wherever we go, it will be less regulated and cause further damage. And in many ways, the problem isn’t harvesting palm oil but rather it is unethical, irresponsible corporate growers of palm oil. These powerful businesses have destroyed vast swaths of forests and disenfranchised local people.  We need to stop these unethical practices with our pocketbook without abandoning palm.  It would be difficult to find an oil that has less impact on the eco-system than palm oil. This means, if we transfer our demand for palm oil to another tree oil, we are likely to do more harm on the environment, forests and creatures than we are doing by pursuing palm oil.

Support Responsible, Sustainable Organic Palm Oil Growers

Instead, I believe we need to pay more for reputable suppliers of certified sustainable and organic growers of palm oil. This is why I choose to purchase palm oil made by members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). I also pay more for palm oil from certified organic growers. I worry that choosing to make soap using a more costly but inferior oil could potentially shift the problem to an industry that has even less oversight then the Palm Oil industry does.

It is Worth Paying More for Sustainable Organic Palm Oil

Since palm oil makes a real luxury soap, I am willing to pay more for the luxury version of palm oil that works with our environment. I purchase my Palm products from a company who is a listed member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) (https://www.rspo.org/members/2312/CFC-Inc-dba-Columbus-Vegetable-Oils) and a certified supplier of organic oils (https://www.usda.gov/topics/organic). Yes, it is more expensive but well worth it, both for our world and for the quality of the soap.

The World Wildlife Fund supports this decision and asks us to support Palm Oil certified by the RSPO. They do not believe that substituting Organic and Sustainable Palm with other oils is good solution. Palm trees supply more oil on less land while producing more benefit for the environment than other oils.

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