Palm Oil, Orangutans and Soap


Orangutan faces.  Simply adorable.

I like the idea of going vegetarian because it’s not right to eat animals — but it’s not enough to keep me from eating meat.  The idea that meat-eating contributes to global warming, though?  That does it for me: we went mostly vegetarian.  So you can imagine how I felt when I learned that the practice of harvesting palm oil contributes both to global warming and the destruction of the orangutan species (PDF)  — if you read no other links from this post, please read this one.

Palm oil is an edible oil extracted from the fruit and seeds of a certain kind of palm tree.  It’s used in all sorts of food products and home products.  Because palm oil is solid at room temperature, it’s great in soap; it helps to make a smooth, solid bar.

Of course, the FDA doesn’t require personal care manufacturers to list all of their ingredients, so palm oil hides under many different names.  Or it’s not listed at all.  That’s kind of a big problem when you’re trying to avoid palm oil.

What’s a palm oil-avoider to do?  You can search for palm free soap on etsy — these soaps are usually made with hydrogenated vegetable oils, lard, or shea butter in place of palm oil.  Or you can check your favorite soap seller.  Mine doesn’t list her ingredients, but just says “vegetable oils.”  That probably means palm oil, but just to be safe, I emailed her because I love a well-crafted bar of soap.

A third option is to make your own.  There are dozens of soap recipes out there, and at least a few are palm free.  Rachel at Small Notebook has a great tutorial up about making your own soap, and Renee at FIMBY, who makes soap for her entire family, recommends the book Clean, Naturally: Recipes for Body, Home and Spirit for beginner soapmakers.  I trust her, so I guess I’ll be picking that up from the library next week!


©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where Mr. Savvy found out that our favorite soapmaker might use palm oil and grew visibly upset.  We love soap that much.  Image courtesy of Sloth-in-a-Box (DOaZOO).

7 responses

  1. too ironic that just as I’ve started to use palm oil, i read this. Ack!
    the soap recipes in Clean, Naturally… use coconut oil, vegetable shortening and olive oil – easy to find and use but I like the harder bar I get with using palm oil (something I’ve just started trying). Guess I have more research to do but I do plan on using up the 7lbs of palm kernel oil I just bought.

    • I found that was the hardest part of going green — using up the non eco-friendly products in the house. But it’s so much less wasteful to use up what you have already than to toss it out and buy all new stuff. I’m so impressed that you make your own soap!

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Christine. I saw you mention it on twitter yesterday, and I was really interested. I was going to ask you to write about it, so I’m really glad you beat me to it!

  3. You found out that your favorite soap maker may NOT use palm oil and gre upset? I was slightly confused by that statement. Thanks for the info though. This was something I had not heard of.

    • Whoops! You’re right, I meant he found out that the soapmaker might use palm oil. There’s not supposed to be a negative in there. I’ll change that!

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