Probably one of the hardest things to find while living overseas in South America are sustainable and safe cleaning products. The easiest solution is to use the basics for most cleaning – baking soda and white vinegar (though much more expensive here than in the US). But for some things, it is nice to have a pre-packaged product, especially for laundry. When we first arrived, we found a great South American labeled product that had no scent and was safe for the environment. But recently, it’s been impossible to find. The Ecuadorian Government placed restrictions on imports a couple of months ago and it is becoming clear which products come from other countries. Our choices are slimming down. My first “ecological” purchase ended up being a heavily perfumed substitute that quickly has been put on the back shelf. It regularly gives me headaches and I have a hard time believing it is safe for anyone to use. My second attempt was the powdered detergent pictured in this piece. I will admit, I did not read the label before bringing it home. I trusted in the packaging – all that beautiful green and the word “ecológico” made me complacent.
It was only when I got home and popped open the package that I noticed the word Palm Oil in bold. What a minute, I thought. Isn’t that the same stuff that two Girl Scouts are trying to remove from Girl Scout Cookies? Isn’t it the same plant replacing acres of rainforest in Indonesia? How can that be helping the environment?
So I did my homework.
Palm Oil, or Aciete de Palma, is derived from a plant. Therefore, this company’s claim to use something natural is spot on. They aren’t lying. But they are misleading. This product does not help the environment. It could be if it was farmed sustainably but it isn’t. The countries of Malaysia and Indonesia are converting already endangered rainforest into palm oil plantations, threatening the biodiversity of the region. The rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra are also the last home of the orangutan, the Sumatran Tiger, and the Sumatran rhinoceros.
Some new palm oil plantations in South America are making claims to be sustainable. First, they say they are taking pressure off of the plantations in Indonesia and Sumatra. But information on the plantations is sorely lacking and we know that rainforests in South America are under almost as much pressure as those in Southeast Asia. Studies are ongoing but it is clear that newer plantations are being built in the style of large agri-business in the United States.
It’s hard to argue with money and the governments of these island nations see an increasing demand for palm oil. In fact, in the US alone, palm oil imports have increased by 485%. It’s in everything from cookies and ice cream to your laundry detergent and cosmetics. And it is still in Girl Scout cookies, despite the hard work of a couple of Girl Scout activists.
I for one, refuse to participate in the destruction of these wild places. I have been looking for palm oil in the usual places but now I know to look in the unusual ones. It’s a hard lesson to learn. I would love to believe that there are companies out there that are looking out for the environment as well as the bottom dollar. But it’s my job as a consumer to double check every label. I hope you’ll join me. Together, we can change the world.