What’s all the fuss about palm oil? As you may have noticed, we have a tree theme to our blog this month. (I’ll admit that I am a little obsessed with trees.) They give us so many of the ingredients we need for a healthy diet and healthy skincare. They create oxygen, cleanse the air, and there’s just something so enriching about them.
Unfortunately, not all tree ingredients are good for the environment. Palm oil, in particular, has been responsible for the destruction of millions of hectares of rainforest. Many people now avoid palm oil when they’re buying groceries, but not all realise how commonly it’s used in personal care products, particularly soaps.
Orangutans have become synonymous with palm oil. While wild orangutans used to be found across Asia, they’re now restricted to two islands – Sumatra and Borneo, both of which are major producers of palm oil. More than 80% of the orangutans’ habitat has been destroyed in the last 20 years and it’s estimated that at least 50,000 have been killed. According to Michelle Desilets, Executive Director of the Orangutan Land Trust, “Securing safe forest habitat is the single-most important thing we can do to save the orangutan from extinction.”
Orangutans are one of the most intelligent species on Earth and one of humans’ closest relatives. As well as the orangutan needing the forest, the forest needs the orangutan. The word orangutan comes from the Malay language and means ‘person of the forest’ – from the words ‘orang’ meaning people and ‘hutan’ meaning forest. They are stunning animals! They eat fruit that many other animals cannot, and then spread the seeds in their dung. The orangutan is vital to the forest’s survival, and therefore the survival of other endangered species, such as the Sumatran tiger.
And of course, unsustainable palm oil is not just bad news for orangutans. Rainforest destruction is linked to climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental concerns. Palm oil production has also been linked to human rights abuses. Local people often rely on the forests for food, building materials and income. When they are destroyed, the people often have no choice but to work on the palm oil plantations, often for long hours and little pay. Child labour is rife.
So is it best to avoid palm oil altogether? Well, it really depends what it’s replaced with. Palm oil is one of the highest-yielding edible oil crops. Replacing it with oils such as rapeseed can mean that even more land would need to be used. According to the Orangutan Land Trust, the key thing is to make sure that when palm oil is produced, it’s done in the most sustainable way possible, and doesn’t require any further clearing of forests.
At Akamuti, we don’t knowingly use any ingredients that contribute to habitat destruction. All of our soaps are palm-oil free, except for our black soap, which uses sustainably sourced, deforestation-free palm oil.
Do you want to help protect forests and orangutans for generations to come? Choose products that are free from palm oil, or only use sustainably sourced palm oil. Lots more pictures and information at www.forests4orangutans.org.