Soap is one of life’s essentials – try to go without and you’ll soon lose friends. But soap often contains palm oil. The production of this oil causes rainforest destruction at a shocking rate.
If you’re looking to make a change to your washing routine you’ll find that soap without palm oil does exist. But sadly it won’t be dominating the shelves of your local supermarket.
As palm oil free soap is still a ‘specialist’ buy we’ve helped you out with a list of palm oil free soap for the whole family.
What is Palm Oil Anyway?
Palm oil is a vegetable oil extracted from the palm fruit. It’s used in so many different household goods it’s hard to keep up. From cakes to toothpaste, palm oil is a common ingredient.
Manufacturers don’t have to use palm oil in their soaps, but because the price of palm oil is so low, it’s a go-to ingredient.
Cocoa butter, coconut oil, tallow, coffee bean oil and mango seed oil can all be used to make soap. Farming these oils is currently much kinder to the environment. But any of these ingredients harvested on a massive scale would do as much harm as palm oil currently does.
Why Palm Oil is Such a Problem
There are three big problems with palm oil, especially when harvesting it on a large sale.
Firstly, the palm fruit grows in hot countries such as Indonesia. That’s also where our rainforests are. To make room for more and yet more palm oil, the rainforests are being cut down and turned into palm farms.
Rainforests help to clear CO2 from the environment and produce the oxygen we breathe. We’re reliant on rainforests for clean air and once they’re gone they won’t easily grow back.
Rainforest clearance also leads to species destruction. No doubt you’ve heard about the plight of orangutans. Sadly over 90% of their habitat is now lost.
Also under threat are Sumatran rhinos. Along with tigers, clouded leopards, sun bears, proboscis monkeys and pygmy elephants. For these endangered creatures, no habitat means fast approaching extinction.
Another side effect of large scale palm oil production is the reliance of native people on the trade. Traditional ways of life are no longer possible. Families are trapped in the ‘work in the palm oil trade or starve’ cycle. This is a devastating cycle that’s also supported by their governments.
Where Can I Buy Soap Without Palm Oil?
You can start to make a change by choosing to wash with soaps without palm oil.
Sadly when it comes to soap, there aren’t many palm oil free choices. Lush do a range of gourmet soaps and Suma’s Alternative range of handmade soaps are lovely. Oliva Olive Oil Soap is also free from palm oil.
But what if these don’t suit you? You could consider making your own, which is tricky to get the hang of. Or you could choose a soap containing sustainable palm oil.
What Is Sustainable Palm Oil?
Sustainable choices are really important. Cutting out an ingredient and then watching in horror as another mass harvested ingredient fills the void isn’t the answer. Instead we need to place more emphasis on finding a balance between our needs and those of the natural world.
Sustainable palm oil considers the ethical implications of the palm oil trade. And it’s MUCH easier to find soap with sustainable palm oil, than palm oil free soap.
Look for products that have the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) mark. RSPO is a not for profit organisation that companies apply to, to gain certification. To become sustainable, they must adhere to certain environmental, social and ethical criteria.
To find sustainable palm oil products you can read through the environmental policies of your favourite brands.
For example, here’s a quote from M&S:
We have adopted the RSPO as our minimum global sustainability standard for palm oil.
In 2017, all palm oil used in M&S products met the RSPO standard. 97% is physically certified and the rest is covered by Book and Claim certificates
That’s all well and good. But when you click the link to find out how they’re performing against their own policy – you get a 404 error. Take from that what you will.
Buying Palm Oil Free Soap
You’d think it would be easy to spot the words “palm” and “oil” in a list of ingredients. But palm oil has many guises.
The most common soaps you’ll find in supermarkets probably contain unsustainable palm oil. It could be hiding under the name of any one of the following:
Good luck memorising them all!
If you’re struggling to find a decent swap, here’s some soaps that contain sustainable palm oil:
- BECO Spring Meadow Soap Bar
- Method Blue Poppy Foaming Hand Wash
- Humble Rose and Frankincense Hand Wash
- Ecoleaf Grapefruit Twist Hand Soap
- L’Occitane Lavender Shea Butter Extra Gentle Hand Soap
- Simply Soap’s Handmade Baby Soap
You could also do a search on Ethical Superstore or Big Green Smile for others.
How to Stop Using Palm Oil
Many products have palm oil as standard so it’s a long-haul job to clear them all out. Start by tackling one or two products – palm oil free shampoo and soap are great places to start.
Read policies, find companies that do good work and try to stick with them if you can. Ethical Superstore and Big Green Smile are great for finding soap without palm oil. You’ll also find other palm oil free products such as toothpaste, floor cleaner and makeup.
Your supermarket may stock Method and Ecover – brands which both use sustainable palm oil. These brands are also working towards becoming palm oil free. For example, Ecover have a palm oil free laundry softener. Switching to this has reduced their use of palm oil by 200 tonnes per year.
Make Your Voice Heard
You can also get involved in the palm oil free movement.
One of the world’s biggest suppliers of palm oil is Wilmar International. This giant supplies major companies like Nestlé and Unilever. Both have made lots of promises to consumers about sustainable palm oil. But in mid 2018 Greenpeace reported that Wilmar were still using ‘dirty’ palm oil.
A Greenpeace campaign backed by over a million people suggested major brands drop Wilmar. As a result, Wilmar have taken steps to better manage where their supplies come from.
Whether this works in the long term remains to be seen, but it does highlight that our actions can make a difference.
On your quest for eating and living sustainably, start small. Swap your current soap to one with sustainable palm oil or find a palm oil free soap and go from there. Your baby steps will definitely add up!