At What Cost? The Killing of Orangutans for Palm Oil

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Today I would like to focus on one ingredient used in the bulk of natural beauty products. While it may be naturally derived, it is a leader in terms of cruelty to animals and harming the environment. This ingredient is PALM OIL.

Palm oil is one ingredient I stopped using immediately in my cold process soaps when I was still making them once I researched how devastating the palm oil trade is to our planet and our animals and to the environment. It was in my initial Miss Honey Buns recipe back in late 2006, and was immediately replaced in early 2007. I made this popular soap with coconut oil, olive oil, soybean oil and sweet almond. 

When I made melt and pour bars, I chose an all natural base with palm oil in it. Before I chose, I asked for the source of the palm oil--I was told it was made with sustainable palm oil. If you ask a business owner or a company about their palm oil and they can only tell you "It is palm oil" or "organic palm oil", then you are most likely NOT getting sustainable palm oil. Sustainable palm oil will cost more, and it is definitely harder to come by, but if you are going to use palm oil, it is surely worth it. And there is no regulation about that. I don't even get that base anymore because I cannot be 100% sure that that oil was sustainable (it isn't advertised on that supplier's site to this day, which would be a huge selling point, actually...). As you know, I have eliminated sulfates, parabens, and other "bad" things from my beauty "diet", and Palm Oil is the most recent addition.

Palm oil is everywhere.

It is used in most soaps, as it is gentle to the skin and makes for a hard bar. It is used in lipsticks and in lip balms, as it is softening and nourishing due to the high saturated fat content. I have looked at the boxes of so many lipsticks, including major brands from $3 to $30+ manyall contain palm oil.

It is not just in our cosmetics. Do you want an incentive to eat healthier if your habits are poor? This is your time to do something! It is in our processed foods. Just go to Wegmans and take a glance at the back of the package of any major brand of crackers, chips or cookies.

Palm oil is also used for biofuels. One would think a "green" alternative to the emissions from standard diesel gas would be more beneficial. Fuel has been produced to be used instead of traditional diesel in farming equipment in the United States. That sounds wonderful, but to get this "green" fuel in terms of emissions, thousands of acres of rainforest have been destroyed. Countless wildlife have perished in an effort to be more "green" in eco-speak. It is a catch 22, almost, in that particular situation. Nobody seems to be aware of HOW that type of "green" fuel comes to be. No one speaks of the effect of animals and the rainforest...to the quality of air. So, yes, using this as a diesel alternative is better for the environment when you talk of emissions alone. No one wants to talk about at what cost this came to be.

As a note, we import a great amount of palm oil in the United States. We have plans to import more. In the UK alone, they import over 1 million TONS of palm oil each year.

What is so wrong with how we get palm oil?

Palm oil is brought to us by literally destroying the habitat of animals, particularly orangutans. Thousands of orangutans have died because of this trade. In fact, five particular mammals are endangered (3 being on the "critically endangered" list) because their habits have been cleared away for palm oil. These are the Sumatran and Bornean Orangutans, Asian Elephant, Sumatran Tiger, and Sumatran Rhinoceros. This is happening all over Southeast Asia, but the majority of the palm oil (over 80%) comes from Malaysia and Borneo alone. Something needs to be done, and soon. If this continues, the Friends of the Earth predicts that within 12 years, orangutans will be extinct. Extinct.

Why is this the case? In their natural habitat, these animals are losing their homes to fires, the logging industry, and more specifically, the palm oil industry. Palm Oil plantations abound, and animals are facing the truth that their travel patterns are cut off, their homes are vanishing (ie: the rainforest in general). Animals are much more vulnerable to poachers because of this. Plantation workers have also been discovered to kill these animals to get food, or to just get the animals "out of their way". Numerous cases of killing these animals essentially "for the sport of it" have been reported. Another way the animals are dying is because the plantation workers often set fires to clear space and the fires often burn out of control, destroying a large chunk of the natural habitat of these animals.

Not only are there moral issues when it comes to the loss of life of these animals, but there is a huge environmental impact. Tropical rainforests are being cleared away. Because of the palm oil plantations (made by clearing away the rainforests), over 600 million TONS of carbon are leaked into the air. Pesticides and herbicides are in the air because of this practice. Let's also think about the fish dying each day from what is being leaked from the processing plants there.

Are Cosmetics Companies Listening?

Not really. One company, LUSH, has decided to create a soap base to make their well-known soaps palm oil free. It is about time! A company claiming to be "natural" and "environmentally conscious" needs to set the standard. Making soap without palm oil is a step, and I hope other companies will follow. I should say that this new formula is no reason to buy Lush soaps. Until they get rid of sulfates and propylene items in their products, they're not as healthy and natural as their loyal followers seem to believe (which is a blog topic next week in response to a reader's question about Lush).

A company I have enjoyed in the past is Kiss My Face. I will not buy another KMF product, however, until they start eliminating palm oil in their recipes. They are the makers of "Kiss My Face Organic Palm Oil Soap".

Burt's Bees...another huge disappointment to me at this time. Palm Oil is #3 on their list of soap ingredients, just look at their popular Radiance Bar. If only they'd leave out the palm oil.

I will say, once again, how pleased I have been with the Crabtree & Evelyn Naturals line! They have some wonderful products, such as their Body Mist (just ordered Lemongrass Sage!) and most NATURALS items are PALM OIL FREE (except the bar soap, grr!). Try, try, try this line from C & E!

The Bottom Line:

The bottom line is that we need, in my opinion, to educate ourselves when it comes to what we rub into our skin, put on our faces, shampoo or hair with, etc.

A conscious effort is made by most of us to pay attention to the foods we put into our bodies. We want to be healthy.

At what cost, though, to have softer skin or a longer lasting bar of soap? Is it worth it? There are so many fats (oils) out there derived through humane methods that we could choose to use instead. Olive oil...coconut oil...sweet almond...grapeseed....apricot...jojoba... macadamia nut....kukui...so many more! Hemp Seed Oil is a wonderfully nourishing, yet cruelty-free and eco-friendly oil.

I had a favorite stuffed animal as a child, Herman. Herman was a stuffed orangutan from Washington, DC's National Zoo Gift Shop. I wanted that one because I always thought orangutans were "cute". I would hate to think that because I wanted a harder bar of soap or a creamy, yet firm lipstick that I would be contributing to the probable extinction of animals within my lifetime.
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