Back in 2011 when I started making soap it was palm oil free. After researching for many months and reading possibly everything ever written on the topic we added a small percentage of RSPO palm oil in our soap, to help the bar last longer in the shower and to give it the cushiony lather that protects your skin from stretching and pulling as you wash.
About Palm oil
Palm oil is grown on around 27 million hectares worldwide, an area about the size of New Zealand. 6.5 million growers, 3 million of which are small holders rely on the income from this crop to feed their families but the rapid growth in demand has caused a wide variety of threats to forests, wildlife and people.
Between 1990 and 2008 deforestation resulted in the loss of 239 million hectares of forests worldwide. Only 2.3% of this was due to new palm oil plantations. In tropical areas the number is estimated at around 5% and in Indonesia (the highest statistic available) the number is around 12%.
Palm oil is not the only driver for deforestation and subsequent habitat loss. Forest fires and natural hazards (17%), urban expansion (4%), soy production (5.5%) and livestock pasturing (24%) are other contributors but no one gets the same bad press as palm oil.
Palm oil is efficient
Of all of the land used worldwide for oil crops palm uses less than 10%. From this small percentage it yields 38% of the total of all oil grown. If palm oil covered 3 times as much space as it does currently it could produce the entire worlds vegetable oil requirements in less than 30% of the land currently dedicated to oil crops. Obviously the reverse hold true. If palm was successfully boycotted and no one grew it anymore the world would need to find a lot more land.
Unlike seasonal crops that grow, are harvested, ploughed and regrown, palm trees have a long productive life of around 30 years. Damaging ploughing and tilling of the soil every season is not required, and palm trees require less water, fertiliser and pesticides.
Palm is ideal for soap
Palm oil is rich in vitamins and antioxidants and its fatty acid profile creates a soap that is hard wearing with a beautiful creamy lather. The nearest alternative is tallow but this has a faint beefy fragrance and has environmental issues of its own. Coconut oil soap is very drying to skin and breaks down quickly in water. Here also huge growth has created threats to local environments including mangrove swamps. Cocoa butter has issues with child slavery. And soy wax leads us right back into issues of deforestation but without the benefits of high yield.
Greenpeace and the WWF believe that boycotting palm wont help fix the problems surrounding palm oil. Supporting the farmers who are trying to grow crops sustainably and the NGOs that are supporting them will help and is hugely important for the future of the palm industry and the world. We currently support a program that provides jobs for local workers as forest rangers. This employs people (one of our main goals) in forest areas of Sumatra and Borneo, 2 areas that desperately needs to be protected from illegal logging.
We believe it is more important to be part of the solution and using sustainably farmed palm oil, while not the easy choice, is the right choice. Other people may see it differently and that's okay. We're not here to argue. We're here to make great soap while treading as lightly as we can and sustainable palm oil helps us do this.