Our soaps are Palm Oil free: Why does it matter?

What’s the relationship between your average soap and orangutans? Nope, as far as we know, orangutans don’t use soap when they bathe.

The answer is actually palm oil — a common ingredient in soaps. Palm oil comes from the African oil palm, a plant that grows in tropical forests, and whose versatility and cheap processing put it at the forefront of the market. So…what does palm oil have to do with orangutans, you may ask?

To make space for the high demand for palm oil plantations, rainforests are being cut down. The result? Widespread deforestation. (Hint: Here’s where the orangutans come in!) This deforestation is threatening animals with extinction, most distinguishably the critically endangered orangutan. An estimated 50% of the world’s animal population resides in the rain forest and we are losing it.

But that’s not all. The process of converting rainforests into palm oil plantations is associated with high rates of greenhouse gas emissions. The removal of primary forest leads to greenhouse gas emissions and destroy habitats, threatening the extinction of many endemic species. If the forest being cleared covers peatland, that land is highly flammable and can burn for months, undetected. Peatland also has a high carbon content that emits mass amounts of greenhouse gases when burned. If the goal is to reduce greenhouse gases, we must preserve our most efficient carbon sinks rather than destroy them. The peatland found in Indonesia and Malaysia is some of the oldest and deepest in the world which means they contain the most carbon. Burning primary forest and peatland has been calculated to create carbon debts anywhere from about 100 to 1000 years (Science, Fargione, et al. 2008). Palm oil as it is currently produced is simply not sustainable.

So, let’s keep our orangutans and forests alive! Don’t fuel (pun intended) the palm oil industry. Next time your shopping for soap (or other cosmetics and foods), check the ingredients! Make sure palm oil isn’t written on there because it’s destroying us.

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