I started using bar soaps more than liquid soaps to try to avoid plastic packaging. However, not all bar soaps are created equal. Some amazing Canadian brands use all natural ingredients, like Soap So Co. and Cedar Point Soaps. You’ll notice that a lot of soaps do include palm oil as an ingredient. Why does that matter?
The controversy is this: palm plantations are taking over a lot of land that shouldn’t be encroached upon, like rainforest land and peatlands.
Not all palm oil is leading to tropical deforestation – but we need to make sure that it is produced sustainably. Which right now, for the most part, it isn’t. Here’s a great infographic provided by the Union of Concerned Scientists that explains the issue very well.
Click here to download the pdf format of this infographic.
There is a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which provides certification for palm oil that is produced in sustainable ways. But it seems that “sustainable” is semantically variable in the RSPO, so it might not mean a whole lot to be RSPO-certified. It seems fair trade organic is the closest thing to a guarantee that a product contains truly sustainable palm oil.
When I contacted the owner of Cedar Point Soaps to ask her about this, she raised an interesting point. She talked about someone who bought a forest/wetland property, cut the trees down, filled in the eco-sensitive wetland, and after many years, turned it into an organic farm. Could this farm really be called organic if we considered the fact that the land used to be a forest/wetland, and this was essentially destroyed to make way for the farm? What if a palm oil plantation started that way, but then went to a replanting program? Would they forever be thought of as eco-unfriendly because of what was there before? Can a grower ever be “rehabilitated” by replanting, or will they always be known as the people who cut down the original forest? Food for thought.
The owner of Cedar Point Soaps states that her palm oil supplier is RSPO-certified and guarantees that it comes from regulated palm plantation land that was not previously rainforest land. Palm oil is an important ingredient for her soaps, as it is used to harden the soap bar and counteract the soft properties of olive oil and coconut oil. So in this case, it may not be feasible to go palm-free.
So – is palm oil bad? Is going palm-free a pre-requisite to being truly eco-friendly and green? I’m still not sure I can answer that question with a yes or a no. I’m still thinking that it depends. Palm oil is found in a lot of stuff, not just bar soaps, so I think it’s reasonable to avoid it in things like food or lotions. It may be tougher to avoid in a bar soap, but there are some brands out there that are palm-free. As with everything, we have to be our own judge of what we can realistically do. I do think that every little decision can help to lead a greener life.