Hold Up, Palm Oil in my detergent?

We talk about a lot of different things in laundry detergents that impact the overall functioning of cloth diapering and even the environmental impact of cloth diapers, but I haven’t heard of anyone ever bring up the issue of palm oil. 

Palm oil comes from the fruit of oil palm trees. It is native to Africa but also being brought into South-East Asia. In essence, it’s miraculous answer to our needs because it grows very productively, requires significantly less land than other oils, create jobs, and impacts national economies. But, we don’t farm it sustainably and thus it creates lasting, devastating impacts that we need to talk about. 

Palm oil gets a bad reputation on the web, and rightfully so. 

The issue of palm oil has never stumbled across my mind, but today it did, and I felt a little upset with myself for actively ignoring this massive environmental issue because I just didn’t know because I don’t read packaging let alone put two and two together.

Let’s talk about it.

And not because I want you stop using the detergents and products that work for you, but because I believe that informed consumers can make change.

How can we even address this issue if we don’t know about it. We can call upon the makers of the products we love to consider sustainable sourced palm oil, or to be transparent with us about their sourcing. It’s amazing what demands for transparency can do to make a company clean up their PR act because nobody wants the world to know they destroyed the Rhino habitat with child labor. 

This is a great article about growing palm oil sustainably.

This isn’t about giving it up, but about how information can begin to change the world. 

Why should I care about Palm Oil?

The conversation around palm oil is important because it’s in almost everything from food to personal hygiene because its something that works in so many different ways in amazing ways. Palm oil is something that if you started to read labels you’d probably begin to feel like you can’t do anything. 

Because it is in everything, and because we love to consumer, the thirst for palm oil means extensive deforestation to meet our needs and demands. This is particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia.

See, we don’t really farm palm oil in a sustainable way. It’s largely admitted that the fruit is harvested for an average of 28-30 years and then the trees are too tall. The trees are then cut down and new ones planted. 

But hey, they planted new trees! Sure, but the rich habitats and ecosystems that were in those places were devastated. Replanting isn’t the solution to deforestation. Replanting seldom brings back the rich biodiversity of the area and impacts animals who don’t’ really get a notice to move out in the next week. This means over 100,000 orangutang have lost their life due to the quest for Palm Oil because they don’t really want to move. This study for more details. 

We’re also talking about a tree that grows in an area of the world where worker exploitation and child labor continues to thrive. 

But Bailey, how does this impact cloth diapering?

Is cloth diapering really connected to deforestation? What about all the other people? Well, catchy headlines make you click things and read them. 

Cloth Diapers and Laundry Impacts

In some sense yes. The consumption of laundry products by cloth diaper parents impact deforestation for the precious resource of palm oil. The consumption of laundry products by regular families also impacts the environment. The one load of laundry we do each week for cloth diapers is notably lesser impact than the massive amounts of laundry crated by a growing preschooler who loves a mud pit. 

I know that cloth diapering is not the biggest culprit of deforestation and palm oil use.

I do know that in my areas we push detergents because of their effectiveness but also forget about the environmental consequences.

While cloth diapering is financial for many, the green wash discussion of this business means we need to talk about how cloth diapering impacts the environment. Not because I want you stop cloth diapering, but because I want you to be a champion for change and shifting small spaces to become more sustainable for the longevity of the planet. 

How do I know if my Palm Oil Detergent is sustainable?

First, I wouldn’t just trust any blog on the internet to provide you with the details. Go directly to the source, ask the brand, and investigate with resources such as the World Wildlife Foundation.

 I found some older blogs that were trashing Tide, and their big umbrella Proctor & Gamble. However, according to their Sustainability Policy, P&G has created a transparent supply chain in 2015, and required their suppliers show how they will ensure supply without deforestation by 2020. The same was request of palm kernel oil, and that goal has not yet been met. That said, it reads all as written promises and less as actually achieved motions. Therefore, some accountability might be needed to ensure this brand follows through with meeting promises. 

As for other products, check in with them. If they don’t provide transparent clear answers, be skeptical. There shouldn’t be any hiding if things are all good. 

And Make a Decision that works for you. 

This isn’t me telling you what to do, this is me sitting down and having a conversation with you about something pretty serious. We should talk about these things more and make personal choices that align with our values for the world. 

What am I going to do? I’m going to try harder to read labels and limit my use of non-sustainable palm oil. I feel the evidence does suggest that sustainably farmed and manufactured palm oil is a viable to meet our oil needs. However, I’d just rather ensure we don’t destroy forests and animal habitats if we don’t have to. 

Sources: World Wildlife Foundation