I have always been a bit of a girly girl. My mother will be the first to tell you how I used to play in the sandbox in the backyard in white lace dresses and how, for the first vocal years of my Canadian childhood, I wholeheartedly refused to wear snow pants. The snow dress that my amazing mother managed to track down was the envy of the playground…or at least I think it was. On a recent three month backpacking trip to east Africa I lugged around seven pounds of hair products and moisturizers. Like I said: girly girl. I really became serious about environmental sustainability in university (say hello to those icky worms that live in the compost container on my apartment balcony) and have made a conscious effort as of late to become as informed as possible into which eco-friendly, natural or organic products not only work but actually live up to their claims of being good for the environment.
Being environmentally aware enough to be environmentally friendly can be a challenge. Society isn’t exactly geared towards sustainability, although there is a little back-burner-style focus being put on making business more eco-conscious. However, some things that you may expect to be ‘green’ may not be as natural or sustainable as you’d think.
9-11 changed the world, there’s no doubt about that. Oil prices soared and manufacturers had to look for other sources to keep their products budget friendly. Enter palm oil.
Palm oil and palm kernel oil come from the fruit of two species of palm tree found in Central America, certain countries in Africa, and South-East Asia specifically Malaysia and Indonesia. 85% of the world’s palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, as a matter of fact. It’s ‘plant based’ and ‘natural’, both great buzz-words for the green-trend, but is it really as good as those words would lead us to believe? Sadly, no. Threre is little regulation as to the clearing of palm plantations and, according to a 2007 report by the United Nations, palm oil plantations are the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. To top it all off, the demand for palm oil continues to climb. How’s that for sustainability?
In Canada there is very little regulation on the words ‘natural’ or ‘plant based” so it is easy for a company to slap that label on their bottle of body cream and place it in a health food store. The trusting consumer goes to their local health food store, or even just the natural section of their Superstore and look for these buzz-words and hope that the manufacturers are being openly truthful. I am not suggesting that the companies are lying to us, but even though an ingredient started out as a plant, once it has been processed down to the ingredient listed on the bottle it may be so far from it’s natural state it would be more truthful to call it synthetic. The owner of LUSH cosmetics have openly admitted this; some of the ingredients listed in black on their labels once started as plants but they see them as synthetic now because of processing and freely display that for the consumer.
So I guess what I’ve learned so far and my main point for now is to just be cautious. Yes, it may seem like buying that natural product is helping the environment, but buyer beware. That biodegradable, all natural palm oil that’s in that facial cleanser or bag of potato chips is far more damaging to the environment than the buzz-words lead us to believe.
Coming up: My next post will be about the sulphate and parabens debate as well as some chemicals commonly found in beauty products that really ought to be avoided and why.
If you’d like a little more info on palm oil, WWF has a nice, simple page of information on their website: http://www.wwf.org.au/our_work/saving_the_natural_world/forests/palm_oil/