Palm oil has become somewhat of a celebrity product lately. There was a run of Facebook articles earlier this year along the lines of "How your potato chips are killing chimps".
In these articles the reporters let us know that palm oil is cheap, versatile, and easily accessible. It’s in everything: processed snacks, body wash, trail mix, shampoo, lipstick, peanut butter, and a whole host of other things that are already in your house. Readers also learned that palm oil is not a bad crop. As a born and raised Iowan, I understand the importance of crop yield, and palm oil is just that, a high yield plant.
According to Denis J Murphy on thecoversation.com
On a per hectare basis, oil palm trees are 6-10 times more efficient at producing oil than temperate oilseed crops such as rapeseed, soybean, olive and sunflower. The trees also have a productive lifetime of around 30 years. Soil in oil palm plantations is rich in organic content and is less disrupted compared to temperate, annual oil crops where highly destructive annual ploughing of the soil is required.
So that’s great, right?
The trouble with palm oil is in the planting and harvesting. Our consumption of this versatile oil has contributed to the deforestation of thousands of acres of irreplaceable rainforests and natural habitats for some endangered species. Oil palms thrive in climates like those in Africa and Southeast Asia, where animals such as Orangutans, Sumatran Tigers, the Sumatran Rhinoceros, Malayan Sun Bear, and the Bornean Pygmy Elephant live. Without their habitats these animals die, creating a great disruption in the biodiversity of these areas, and eventually, possibly leading to their extinction.
So, what does all of this have to do with soap?
Using palm oil in soap makes for a very hard bar that has a nice lather. But it’s not necessary. There are other oils that make for very nice soaps that don’t have the environmental and social price tags that palm oil does. Sugar Grove Goods soaps contain olive oil, organic coconut oil, and castor oil; these are the only oils we use. Some customers have mentioned that our soaps are softer than those that you can buy at the store, or those that, if you looked at the ingredient list, contain palm oil. Our bars contain an average of 75% olive oil in order to maintain the moisturizing properties that we’ve become known for. We could increase the percentage of coconut oil in our bars to make them harder, but we would sacrifice some of the humectants…our bars wouldn’t be as luxurious.
There are movements to use only organic and sustainably sourced palm oil in homemade products. But with the palm oil market as it stands now, those efforts are a small minority of the oil consumption. If there is still a great demand for palm oil there is still the incentive for farmers to try and find the cheapest and easiest ways to grow and harvest these crops. By removing our small business from the palm oil market altogether we are able to provide an ultra-moisturizing product without these environmental and social consequences.
All this means for you as our customer is that you just need to keep your Sugar Grove Goods soaps out of direct shower spray, and don’t let them soak in your bathtub while you enjoy them.