Palm oil or not?

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

This is a contentious issue. Do I use palm oil in my soaps or not? I have tried a few recipes and I like the soaps I get using palm oil in my recipe and have taken the decision to use it but you may want to know some of the facts about palm oil and its use in soap.

Palm oil is frequently used in cold process soap making as it helps to harden the bar of soap and when paired with coconut oil, it creates a lovely lather.

However, soap is not the only thing that we consume or use with palm oil in. Did you know it is in nearly 50% of the packaged products that we buy in our local supermarket. it is found in pizza, doughnuts, chocolate. It is found in deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and lipstick.

It is an extremely versatile oil with many different properties and functions. This is why it is so widely used. The oil palm trees were native to Africa but a little over 100 years go were bought to South-East Asia. Nowadays, Indonesia and Malaysia make up over 85% of the global supply of palm oil but they aren't the only ones. There are another 42 countries that also produce palm oil.

So .... Whats the problem with palm oil then? Palm oil is a major driver of deforestation. Not only have huge swathes of rainforest been lost but the habitats of many endangered species have been affected as well. Animals such as the Orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino have lost their habitats. Not only is the loss of rainforest and habitat a concern, but there is also the issue around greenhouse gases and climate change and the exploitation of workers to consider.

Why on earth would I want to have a brand that pushes the ecofriendly message and then use something like palm oil that has a dodgy past to say the least?

In 2004 the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed. This organisation developed a production standard that sets best practice in producing and sourcing palm oil. Many people still choose to move away from palm oil, preferring to use alternatives in their soaps and there is nothing wrong with this. During my reading though, I discovered that there is a potential downside to encouraging people to move away from palm oil completely.

Palm oil is an incredibly efficient crop. it accounts for some 35% of the worlds vegetable oil crop with demand on only 10% of the land. To get the same amount of oil from alternatives will mean the need for anything between 4 and 10 times more land. This would merely shift the issue to other areas, other habitats and other animals. Palm oil also impacts on GDP of emerging economies and boycotting it completely would be devastating for these. The answer here is not simply to demand the cessation of palm oil production but for producers and sellers of palm oil to become more aware of and being more responsible and ethical in their production.

Using RSPO allows this to happen and in 2012 the UK Government decided that 100% of our palm oil should be from sustainable sources where there is no harm to nature or people. In 2016 we were at 75%. Some way to go but definitely a move in the right direction.

I want to use palm oil as I like the soap it produces along with my coconut and olive oil. I will do this responsibly and continue to do so and want to reassure you that my ingredients I use in my soaps are responsibly sourced and always will be.

More information can be found here and here

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