What you need to know about palm oil

What you need to know about palm oil

Between anti-Dove Youtube videos and the boycott of Nutella, the subject of palm oil has blown up into quiet a controversial dialogue. But before you start fretting about palm oil being in practically every household item and the dwindling orangutan population, read on.

Palm oil has boiled into such a scandalous conversation because of two reasons:

  1. Its overly common usage
  2. Its environmental cultivation impact

What are goods we use that contain palm oil?

Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil that is derived from a palm oil tree’s fruit. This plant flourishes with an abundance of rain and sun exposure, i.e. rainforests. In one year, 50 million tons of palm oil are produced, making up 30% of the world’s vegetable oil.

Over time, it has become a popular ingredient in food, cleaning products, cosmetics, the list goes on. Its natural preservative effect makes it a common placeholder for chemicals. It is also an efficient plant to cultivate considering it high yield per crop. Palm oil needs less than half the amount of land another oil producing plant would need. In turn, palm oil qualifies as one of the cheapest vegetable oils to produce.

What is the environmental impact of palm oil?

Due to its popularity, this crop has increased significantly and contributed to the deforestation issue. The continual and extreme damage to the rainforest, primarily in Malaysia and Indonesia (85% of the world’s palm oil supply), is degrading habitation for many endangered species. As a result, animal cruelty and climate change have entered the conversation. Conflict has also broken out with the local indigenous communities regarding the irresponsible cultivation.

So, why do we use palm oil?

Palm oil benefits are not as frequently touted because of its environment impact. However, in soap, palm has the following benefits:

  • It’s got A LOT of beta-carotene (vitamin A), which makes it great for helping fight damage done to the skin from UV exposure. In fact, in Asia & Africa, people use it to repair skin, since it also has a high amount of saturated fat
  • It’s also got A LOT of vitamin E, which is effective in protecting the skin, as it’s able to penetrate much deeper into the skin’s layers
  • Palm oil makes for a hardier bar and produces a stable lather. Coconut oil does the same, but too much coconut oil can be drying

Is there a responsible solution?

Eliminating palm oil production would have catastrophic effects on the economy of underdeveloped countries that rely on this produce and on the environment as chemical alternatives take its place. Thankfully there are sustainable means of cultivating palm oil. These include employing small shareholders to grow smaller crops across the regions rather than rows upon rows of trees in place of the rainforest and continual conversation of sustainable practices. 

Over the years, a nonprofit organization called RSPO has worked to unite palm oil stakeholders to establish a set of standards for responsible sourcing of palm oil in order to address its impeding consequences.

There are eight principles a company has to achieve to be RSPO certified:
  1. Commitment to transparency
  2. Compliance with applicable laws & regulations
  3. Commitment to long-term economic & financial viability
  4. Use of appropriate best practices by growers & millers
  5. Environmental responsibility & conversation of natural resources & biodiversity
  6. Responsible consideration of employees, & of individuals & communities affected by growers & mills
  7. Responsible development of new plantings
  8. Commitment to continuous improvement in key areas of activity

How does b.a.r.e. soaps source palm oil?

When we started b.a.r.e. soaps, we made the conscious effort to incorporate palm oil into our soaps because we recognized that palm, when sourced ethically, is an empowering form of livelihood for thousands of farmers. Today, we source our palm oil only from RSPO certified suppliers, and our palm oil is also organic.

RSPO certification is something that we have been unwilling to negotiate on and have even hopped around various suppliers to ensure that we can source this oil ethically and sustainably. In fact, one of our prior suppliers was unable to produce a certificate, and we moved onto another supplier, albeit a more expensive one, to ensure that our ethical sourcing could be maintained.