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The bad effects of palm oil

  • 3 min read

The bad effects of palm oil in everyday cleaning products

At Spruce, we say no to palm oil. (Just imagine us singing Amy Winehouse style “no no no” as soon as we see palm oil in anything). Although palm oil is used on a wide scale, it is one of the most environmentally damaging ingredients hiding in your cleaning products. Yes, we’re sorry to inform you that it also might be in your cleaning products in your cupboards right now. With the rise of concern about palm oil in recent years, you might have been checking food labels on biscuits when shopping but you might not have known to check your cleaning products. Don’t fear, Spruce is here to share with you the bad effects of palm oil and why you might want to consider using palm oil free products.

So palm oil is in what, exactly? Well, everything!

Maybe not everything, but a lot of products anyway. Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil which is derived from the fruit of palm trees. Two types of oil can come from these fruits, crude palm oil and palm kernel oil. Palm oil is used worldwide and is very versatile. It is used in the production of cosmetic products to food items to biofuel. You will most likely find it in your home somewhere on an ingredients list in your cereal or soap or of course, cleaning products.

It is found in cleaning products under the names of “MEA-Palm Kernelate'' which can be found in laundry pods, “Sodium Laureth Sulfate” in washing up liquid and “Laureth-20” in Fabric conditioners. It's sad to see companies that claim to be eco-friendly use palm oil, such as Ecover. Even if a product says “certified sustainable palm oil”, this is still a cause for concern as well.

Arguments against palm oil, including certified sustainable palm oil

The global production of palm oil has increased rapidly and there are plantations across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Palm oil plantations have caused mass deforestation, particularly in Indonesia. The destruction of these forests impacts the communities and endangers the wildlife that live. Deforestation has caused the death of many animals and removal of animals' natural habitat, this includes orangutans, pygmy elephants and Sumatran rhino.

Clearing forests also contributes to climate change because cutting down trees releases greenhouse gases and there are less trees to absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. On top of that, there is also an issue with peat. Indonesian forests grow in peat, which is the surface organic layer of soil that is made from partially decayed vegetation. Palm oil plantations need dry land to build on. They drain the peat, which can cause fires to break out. This releases even more carbon dioxide, and can also have detrimental effects on the health of citizens due to air pollution.

palm oil fruit

 Image by: Nanang Sujana/CIFOR

In 2004, the palm oil industry set up the RSPO, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil association. It laid out the goal to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products. RSPO palm oil is what some cleaning brands that claim to be eco-friendly use in their products. Greenpeace stated that it took 14 years for RSPO to ban its members from destroying forests, which they finally did in 2018. However, since then it hasn’t enforced the rule to stop destroying forests. Greenpeace released a report and showed how RSPO members are still doing it and dodging the laws without even getting a slap on the wrist. The fires that broke out in Indonesia forests were actually caused by some RSPO plantations.

Simply, we just think it's wrong to greenwash customers and make them believe they are buying eco-friendly cleaning products, when in reality it’s a fake front. There are many bad effects of palm oil, so you can see now why at Spruce we offer refillable cleaning products that are palm oil free. There is a huge pressure placed on the environment and on communities when companies use palm oil in their products. It is used far and wide in lots of different items, under many different names. Therefore, it can be tricky to know if it's in some of the products you use. Don’t worry though, here is this list of names that palm oil comes under that can help you check your ingredients. We like to be transparent and honest with our customers so they know exactly what they are purchasing. There are no invisible nasties in our cleaners

Words by Zara Huxley.

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