photo by bdjsb7 (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Palm oil has made its way into countless processed foods, soaps and cosmetics. It is also used to make ‘biofuel’ and even napalm – the gelled gasoline used to horrifying effect during the Vietnam War.

Now palm oil is engaged in another war – a war of the environment. Palm oil cultivation often destroys vital natural resources via the utilization of slash and burn agriculture and rainforest clearing in Indonesia and Malaysia. This type of cultivation not only results in the loss of habitats for many species including vulnerable Sumatran tigers and orangutans, but the burning of the forests releases high levels of black carbon (soot) and CO2. The palm plantations do not provide the same rich ecosystems nor sequester the same amount of carbon as the rainforests they replace. When peat forests or bogs are drained to make way for palm oil plantations, even more CO2 is released than with rainforest deforestation, not to mention the resultant acidification of local waterways.

Lush, a prominent natural cosmetics company based in Dorset, UK, is joining the fight. Though Lush still uses palm oil in some of its products, the environmentally conscious soap-makers have come up with an alternative; a mixture of ‘sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and coconut oil with sodium hydroxide and water’. I hope they still smell and look good enough to eat.

Read more about Lush’s new palm-free soap base in the Guardian.

For more on palm oil and its manifold detrimental effects on the environment, check out this article from Greenpeace.

Additional resources:

Rainforest Action Network – Palm Oil

Palm Oil Action