In the soaping community, there has been a lively debate over the last several years about the use of Palm Oil or Palm Products in handmade soap. Palm Oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the fruit of African Oil Palm that is used to produce soap, cosmetics, food products and cooking. Concerns over the increased demand for the product which has resulted in widespread deforestation in parts of Indonesia impacting the environment, native orangutan and indigenous people; has resulted in a global demand for change. Environmentalists have demanded sustainable production methods; while others have campaigned for the removal of the ingredient from products to “inspire” a quicker change. The Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oils (RSPO) was formed in 2004 to work with the palm industry to address the concerns and be the certifying body on sustainably harvested palm oil. Today, concerns over balancing the benefits of palm production (i.e. employment opportunities) vs. negative impacts (i.e. the extinction of the orangutan) remain.
As a new soap maker in most locations, you are taught that the holy trinity of oils for the perfect bar is Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, and Olive Oil. As more people have become aware of the impacts of Palm Oil use is having on the environment; some soap makers have chosen to go Palm Free, while others have chosen to only use RSPO verified sustainable palm oil. The use of alternative oils to provide the same stable lather and long lasting bar properties as palm oil can be tricky but not impossible. Originally, Palm Oil was used as it was the vegetable alternative to animal fat (lard and tallow) and contained the same chemical properties.
For me, it has been a struggle between being environmentally conscious, health conscious and providing a product at a reasonable cost. RSPO verified Palm Oil is nearly double the cost of non-verified Palm Oil and I personally am a bit leery of RSPO certification/inspection process. I have instead decided to transition my recipes to palm free and place the oil with lard for some recipes and other oils for my all vegetable oil soap. I will continue to revisit the palm issue and maybe one day when the practices that produce the product are more aligned with our company’s core values; we may look at using this oil again in the future.