Thursday, December 16, 2010

Palm Oil- The Dark Side of Vegan Soap

Palm oil really is an amazing oil. Take a quick look around your house and you'll likely see dozens of products that contain palm oil. It may show up in anything from chocolates, cookies, crackers and other snack foods, to dish soap, detergents, and a wide variety of personal care products. Palm oil is also widely used to make bio-diesel fuel and, of course, soap. It is especially popular in vegan soaps as an alternative for animal tallow. Unfortunately, with so many industries bolstering the palm oil industry (which is largely based in Malaysia and Indonesia), many palm oil producers have resorted to unethical practices to keep up with demand, the effects of which have been devastating on the environment and wildlife in regions where palm oil are grown.

report released by the UN illustrates just how large this industry has become: "Palm oil and palm kernel oil now make up one of the largest shares of global vegetable oil supply. Indonesia and Malaysia account for 83% of the global production of palm oil."

In this part of the world, the palm industry is largely controlled by multinational corporations with little regard for the horrific consequences of their financial pursuits. In fact,  rapid expansion of palm oil plantations throughout Indonesia and Malaysia is the primary cause of rain forest loss in the region and consequently the leading cause of  habitat loss for the already endangered orangutan. As palm plantations have encroached on and destroyed the orangutan's home, human and orangutan conflicts have increased, leading many plantation workers to kill orangutans on site. Other orangutans are simply starving to death as their forest home disappears. It is tragic to read about. Even more so when you know how uniquely amazing orangutans are. You can read more about them here.

What's worse is that much of the increase in demand for palm oil is being fueled by the increasing interest in using biodiesel fuels to reduce CO2 emissions. However, the grim irony is that because fire is often used to clear forests and establish palm plantations, these biofuel sources are actually doing more environmental damage than burning fossil fuels would.

With such a damning reputation, my initial response was to avoid palm oil all together... focusing instead on creating bastille type soaps at least until I could research the issue in more depth. When I finally did, what I found was a great organic, sustainable and responsible source from South America. Here is what our supplier says:

"The plants are grown in a mixed species environment with legume under story to provide nitrogen specific plants to host, and feed beneficial insects. Residue from the oil pressings is also returned to the groves to provide nutrients. The farm is in a region of the Amazon that was cleared by previous owners 30-40 years ago, and the reestablishment of a forest crop has brought back many species of birds and other plants and animals. While not as diverse as native Rain forest, it is a vast improvement over grasslands."

I am so happy to be able to use this amazing oil in Spotted Hippo Soap and to be able to say with confidence that no orangutans were injured or killed in the making of our soap :)

To find out more about the plight of the orangutan please, check out the UNEP Report: The Last Stand of the Orangutan

To learn more about these amazing, quirky animals and their culture (yes. culture), please check out this PBS show: From Orphan to King

And to find out more about the organic, sustainable palm oil used in Spotted Hippo Soap, please contact Soapers Choice

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Nature's Inspirations: The Amazing Cuttlefish

If you have ever seen a cuttlefish, then I assume you already know how awesome these magical little guys are. If you haven't... you, my friend, are missing out! PBS aired a great show starring the amazing cuttlefish, which I highly recommend and, luckily enough, it is available online! You can watch it right here...

How cool was that? I think it is totally awe inspiring that a creature naturally evolved to be able to change not only its color, but also its pattern, shape and texture in an instant. So quickly, that it can hypnotize other animals by pulsing stripes across its body!! It is absolutely amazing. Imagine being able to create a natural soap that could do all that! I saw a glow in the dark soap today... but it just seems banal in comparison. *Sigh* Anyway, soap aside, many other artists have captured the magic of the cuttlefish.

I was nearly giddy to find that a quick search on Etsy returned more than 200 pieces that place the cuttlefish front and center. From t-shirts to coasters, greeting cards to pendants, Etsy artists are giving a well deserved nod to this most amazing creature. And, with the holidays just around the corner, if you are looking for unique gift for the person who has everything  (and is well stocked with soap!), you just may want to consider the cuttlefish! Here are a few of my favorites:


Lemayhem is a great artist from New Orleans who captures the intensity and intelligent curiosity of the cuttlefish in her print "Dear Cuttlefish" I equally love her humor as she muses about her Dear Cuttlefish's intentions while offering a little background behind the cuttlefish's historic role in the art world!  


Easykeeper hails from Salt Lake City and does an amazing job of capturing the beautiful colors and magical skin of the cuttlefish with her Stuffed Cuttlefish Decorative Pillow Buddy. But this little guy is more than just a pretty face! Easykeeper's cuttlefish plush is printed on organic cotton and stuffed with all natural cotton fiber filling, making him a great natural addition to any home!


TypsyGypsy is another great "cuttlefish artist". Based in Philadelphia, she creates some of the most amazing sea creature tee-shirts. The best part is, if you read her profile you will learn, all of these great designs were inspired by her 5 year old son and his precocious interest in unusual sea life! I love it! And I love her intricate representation and adorable (without being cutesy!) play on words in this wonderful tee-shirt design: "Lets Cuttle"! 

The Bonheur Letters

Finally, The Bonheur Letters of Barcelona. What a magical little slice of Etsy this shop is! Each print comes to life as the quirky personalities and daily routines of the characters are revealed. Mr. Cuttlefish Sitting in a Wishbone Chair is certainly no exception. Find out all about Mr. Cuttlefish and his proclivity for daily news at The Bonheur Letters Etsy shop!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fun for Free!

Green Clay from MRH
One of my favorite parts of soap making is experimenting with new products, from rich exotic oils, to fine spices and scrumptious essential oils. Yet, it always amazes me how much the same product can vary from supplier to supplier in price, in quality and in performance.

I've seen unrefined butters with dirt and grit embedded in the butters... french green clay that looks more like grey, brown muck... and essential oils that fade or have an off scent and could easily ruin your soap. This is when experimenting becomes less of a fun adventure and more of costly nightmare.

Colored with Turmeric from MRH
That's why I love give-aways! They are a great opportunity to try some new products for free! And I am so excited because one of my favorite companies is currently running a give-away on their blog.

Mountain Rose Herbs is a great company nestled away in the funky little city of Eugene, OR.  They offer an extensive selection of natural and organic products free from pesticides and many other toxic chemicals. And right now, if you go to you can find out how to enter for a chance to win some of their amazing products!

They have a french green clay of such high quality that it stays green in CP soap,  pesticide free essential oils,  and organic oils, butters, herbs, and teas at affordable prices! They are by far one of my favorite businesses!