What the palm? The rainforest-razing oil in…everything

November 8, 2012

PG-palmoil-560Hand me a top hat and cane and I’ll sing about palm as a supercalafragalistic  plant-based petrochemical replacement. Gee willikers, you can add it to everything from lip balm to bathroom cleaner – amazing! But the song and dance come to a screeching halt when you start probing palm’s rainforest record. You know how headlines used to tell us that rainforest beef was clearcutting the Amazon? Well, now palm oil plantations are clearcutting rainforests in Indonesia, Malaysia, Liberia, Camaroon, and the list goes on. I get into some of the nitty gritty details in this week’s Ecoholic column in NOW mag. One reader, Tarama, had written in wondering how she can avoid the troubled ingredient.  Noted Tamara, “It seems almost everything from food, cosmetics and cleaning products (including environmentally friendly brands) include it.” That’s right, sister. Many of them do. So how do you avoid it?

When it comes to food, you’d think palm oil would be easy enough to spot and avoid on ingredient lists, but it’s also often the basis of what’s listed as “vegetable oil.” The EU is starting to demand that veggie oil makers put an end to the mystery. Unfortunately, that ain’t the case in North America so if a product won’t cough up details beyond “vegetable oil,” SKIP.

As for beauty products, palm can be hidden behind the name sodium laureth sulfate, sodium laurel sulfate, sodium laurel sulfoacetate (all of which can also be from coconuts) as well as glyceryl stearate, stearic acid, steareth-2 and steareth-20. I mention a few palm-free soap brands in this week’s column like Ella’s Botanicals and Lush.

When it comes to cleaners, even natural brands often use palm. It can be hard to know for sure since it’s not mandatory for companies to disclose their ingredient lists. When in doubt, try emailing your favourite natural brand and asking them whether they contain any palm-derived ingredients. I’m waiting to hear back from a couple myself. Let them know you want to support palm oil-free products. If all else fails, go back to basics. Baking soda and vinegar are totally palm-free.

Know of any other palm-free brands? Let me know!