When you're choosing a soap for you and your family, you want to pick a product that is great for both your health and the health of our planet, but sometimes, ingredient lists can be downright confusing. Palm oil is a common ingredient in both commercial and some handmade bar and liquid soaps that sounds healthy and all-natural, right? The truth about where palm oil comes from and how it's harvested is a little darker than that, though.
What Is Palm Oil And Why Is It In Your Soap?
Palm oil is an edible oil that is derived from the fruit of oil palm trees, Elaeis guineensis. It is found in many of the items you buy in the supermarket, including food, cosmetics, and hygiene products, and is also used as a biofuel. Because it's an inexpensive ingredient, worldwide demand for it continues to increase. It can be found in most of the commercial bar soaps that you see on the shelves because palm oil is cheap and creates a bubbly lather that people want in their soap.
Palm oil and palm kernel oil are farmed mainly in Southeast Asia on the islands of Malaysia and Indonesia, however, an increasing amount is being grown in Central and South America and Africa. Because it has a long shelf life, it's used all over the world, but, with a little research, you'll see that, while products made with palm oil are inexpensive, we may end up paying more for it in the long run, due to the damage it causes to our planet.
How Palm Oil Wreaks Havoc On The Environment
It's safe to say that the palm oil industry is hugely profitable, which means that more of the Earth's tropical land is being taken over to grow oil palm trees, most often by harmful slash and burn methods. Oil palm tree plantations are the main driver behind deforestation and have destroyed some of the most important environments on the planet. Tropical rainforests act as the lungs of our planet, producing massive amounts of oxygen and helping to slow global warming by trapping carbon dioxide. When the forests are burned to make room for more palm oil plantations, that carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse gas-related climate change.
In addition, rainforests are home to millions of our planet's plant and animal species, which are quickly losing their habitats. Palm oil production has directly threatened the orangutan population of Indonesia, bringing an already endangered species to near-extinction. As the demand for cheap palm oil continues to grow, more habitat is being cleared and lost. Though efforts have been made to grow palm oil more sustainably, it's done very little to help the problem. It seems nearly impossible to grow palm oil sustainably because it's difficult to trace where the oil is coming from, which means sustainable sources are often mixed with unsustainable sources, which makes it really difficult for the average consumer to determine which products are contributing to the issue.
What Can We Do As Consumers & Makers?
With palm oil clearly not being a good environmental choice, at Sweet Tea 'N Biscuits we've chosen to formulate our soaps with more sustainable, fair-trade butters like shea butter and cocoa butter. Shea butter and cocoa butter are natural, vegan-friendly sustainable soap ingredients that will help skin stay moisturized and glowing. It's very possible to source both shea butter and cocoa butter, in a way that helps both our environment and the smaller-scale farmers that grow it.
When you're out and about, choosing any beauty and hygiene products, take a close look at the ingredients listed on the package. Look for products that don't include palm oil or palm kernel oil. Also check your food ingredients, as palm oil sneaks into just about everything.
Sweet Tea 'N Biscuits strives to create environmentally-friendly artisan soap bars in small batches. Our bar soap products are handmade using ethically-sourced ingredients so you can feel good when you use them, and help do your part by going palm free!
Sourcing sustainable shea and cocoa butters does mean our products tend to cost more than your average drugstore soap brands. We believe the craftsmanship and attention to sourcing sustainable ingredients are worth this tradeoff. You aren't just buying a 'bar of soap,' you're buying an artisan, sustainable soap, that supports families and better land management.