Palm Oil and palm kernel oils are derived from the fruit and kernel of oil palms. These oils are high is saturated fats and are commonly found in beauty products as well as food. The wide spread use has been attributed to the generally low cost in comparison to other oils.
The use of palm oil in foods and cosmetics (think handmade soap) has become a huge concern for many environmental activists, as the cultivation of the plant has lead to large scale deforestation. In parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, the clearing of forests has caused significant losses of the natural habitat of the orangutan. Both species of orangutan are classified as endangered, although the Sumatran orangutan is listed as critically endangered.
I'm not going to force feed you just the bad stuff, the palm industry has had some positive impact. It has created jobs, helped structure economies, and has reduced poverty. There's the good. Unfortunately, while the Sumatran tiger's environment is compromised, palm plantations have developed land occupied by indigenous people without consultation or compensation. Many of the palm plantations are also being built on top of existing peat bogs, contributing to rising greenhouse gas emissions.
Malaysia dedicated themselves to limiting the growth of palm plantations, but utilizes illegal immigrants as a large part of their workforce. Creating jobs for those who are not supporting their local economy at all. That being said, established oil palm plantations act as carbon sinks, which according to research by the Tropical Peat Research Laboratory, has helped Malaysia gain status as a net carbon sink. Many groups have looked into the use of oil palm plantations as a carbon sink, and have determined that the deforestation that is a necessary evil for these plantations is not worth the creation of the carbon sink.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was created in 2004 in response to the growing concerns surrounding the palm oil industry. The organization has established and works to uphold international standards for sustainable palm oil production. Unfortunately, Certified Sustainable Palm Oil is in low demand, and the cost for obtaining the certification, and the processes required for running sustainable plantations causes the end product to be more pricey. This leads to consumers and purchasers continuing to purchase non-certified palm oil. Some organizations, like Greenpeace have also argued that sustainable palm oil is not in high demand due to the face that the RSPO standards are not set high enough in regards to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions
Rolf Skar, who is a senior forest campaigner with Greenpeace is on the side of saying no to palm oil. He says that not only is the oil bad for the areas where it's produced, it's also one of the leading causes of global warming.
"The fastest and the worst deforestation rate in the history of humankind is taking place in the tropical forests of Indonesia," Skar says. "That record-breaking rain forest destruction is being fueled by the clearing of land to make palm oil."
Skar has also stated that as much as 80 percent of the land-clearing in Indonesia, one of the principal sources for palm oil, is also illegal. This raises questions about human-rights, and unjust employment "opportunities."
Moral of the story?
There are other options. There are other oils with fantastic skin loving properties. We love the Earth we live on, we love the animals that inhabit this Earth with us, and we want all of the above to be enjoyed for generations to come.
When you are shopping for, or making your own handcrafted soaps, choose a company that is truly environmentally responsible, and say "NO" to palm oil.
Avoid products that include any of the following on their ingredients list:
Palm Kernel Oil
Sodium Palm Kernelate
Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Kernel Oil
Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Oil
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Edited to Add:
Please take a moment to review this petition to the RSPO