What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the reddish pulp of the fruit of oil palms. Palm kernel oil is the oil derived from the kernel or seed of that same plant. The oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis) originates from West Africa where it grows in the wild, and later was developed into an agricultural crop.
Why is it important for soap?
Palm oil has become very popular with the shift to veggie based oils for soap making compared to the traditional use of tallow and lard which are derived from animal fats. Palm oil is very high in Palmitic acid, which makes a bar of soap hard and long lasting with a stable lather, and it is also high in oleic acid, which helps to create a more conditioning lather.
What are other uses for palm oil?
Palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet. Palm oil and palm kernel oil based ingredients are found in approximately 50% of products on supermarket shelves, including both food and non-food items. Many products that use palm oil aren’t clearly labeled. Palm oil and its derivatives can appear under many names, including:
INGREDIENTS:Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol
In addition, pressure to move to a sustainable energy source in Europe has included the use of biofuel, which can be made from palm oil.
What is the issue with palm oil?
Palm oil is in high demand, it is used in a wide variety of products and its consumption is growing every year. New plantations are being developed and existing ones are being expanded in Indonesia, Malaysia, and other Asian countries, as well as Africa and Latin America. This expansion comes at the expense of tropical forest, which forms a critical habitat for a large number of endangered species. Deforestation of our rainforests threatens the survival of indigenous peoples and endangered species, impacts habitat, wildlife and biodiversity. It can increase soil erosion, affect local weather patterns, disrupt water cycles, and increase global greenhouse gas emissions.
The palm oil industry plays a very important role in the economy of many developing countries and supports some of the world’s poorest countries. The people of these developing countries are simply attempting to survive. For them, preservation of native forests and conservation of biological diversity is not a priority.
How can you help?
The solution of producing palm oil while protecting the environment and allowing for the economic growth of poorer nations is not easy. There are some who support a boycott of palm oil.
Palm oil is one of the most efficient oilseed crops in the world. In 2012 oil palm accounted for 5.5% of the global land use for oilseed crop cultivation, but produced 32% of the global oils and fats output. If palm oil plantations are forced to close, their owners are likely to clear more rainforest to plant other crops that would require even more space to keep up with the increased demand. The second largest oil crop, soybeans, would need more than 10 times the amount of land to produce the same amount of oil. A boycott is not a clear winner in this case.
Improving growing practices could double palm oil production, while at the same time protecting precious rainforests and their inhabitants. Since palm yields much more oil and requires much less land compared to crops grown for soybean oil, or sunflower oil, projects have begun to help countries and small farmers identify areas for palm oil development using land previously cleared for other crops. There are also huge tracts of land deforested years ago by loggers that lay abandoned and could be used for new plantations. In this way, no new rainforest land would be cleared.