Dealing with Ambiguity- Palm Oil
July 2, 2010
Palm oil is one of the main oils that soap makers use, and I’ve been trying to find an ethical source. It’s been problematic. I ordered unrefined organic, Fair Trade palm kernel oil from Agbanga Karite. It has a strong nutty, earthy smell. I ignored this and made the soap with my normal recipe. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you use a strongly scented fat, you’re going to get a strongly scented soap. I learned that the palm oil that I’ve gotten from soap making suppliers is refined, bleached, deodorized palm oil. This is the preferred palm oil for soap making. The batches of soap that I made using six ounces of unrefined palm oil will be used in our household- it’s nothing that anyone would want to buy. When I contacted the supplier that Dr. Bronner’s uses, they didn’t return my e-mail. I’m actually getting that a lot. Contacting people- with e-mails unreturned. I understand that people are busy. But, I would be lying if I told you that my unsuccessful attempts to get help weren’t frustrating.
So, I’ve been back at it trying to find a supplier. But, I’ve run into another snag. Palm oil is very problematic in terms of sustainability. It’s a significant contributor to deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. With an increased demand for non-hydrogenated vegetable oils, the demand for palm oil has increased quite a bit. So, more oil palm trees are being planted. This is problematic for several reasons. First, it’s destroying the habitat for the Sumatran tiger, Asian rhinoceros and the Sumatran orangutan- all of these animals are endangered. Second, many of these areas that are being leveled to raise oil palms are biodiversity hotspots. Biodiversity hotspots are areas where there is a huge variety of flora and fauna- much greater than in other areas. Third, many of the areas that are being de-forested to plant oil palms are peat bogs. There is a huge amount of carbon sequestered in peat bogs- when these bogs are leveled, it releases a significant amount of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere. According to wikipedia, the destruction of peat bogs accounts for 4% of global greenhouse emissions. While palm oil production isn’t at fault for all of this, it is a contributor. Lastly, the land of the the Dayak people of Borneo is being planted with oil palms without their consent and despite their objections.
I’ll mention that from what I’ve read, palm oil is being raised sustainably in west Africa. So, I think that it is possible to get ethically produced palm oil.
I’m a “throw the baby out with the bath water” kind of person. God isn’t, and I’m so glad (I would have been tossed a long time ago). I’m tempted to just give up on palm oil. I was praying about it this morning. I think these issues matter to God.
Eccleseastes 7:18 (from The Message). It’s best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it.
So, I’m dealing with some different questions:
Is anyone producing palm oil in a sustainable way? I think so.
If so, will they let me buy from them?
Is the energy consumed to purify palm oil for soap making justifiable?
Will people want to buy soap made only from olive oil?
Until I get some of those questions answered, I’m going to switch over to making shea butter, coconut oil and olive oil soaps.
It’s a wonderful thing to have problems that you actually choose for yourself.