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Certifying the oleochemical home and personal care value chain What if palm sustainability certification becomes “must have” rather than “nice to have”?


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The H&PC industry has not yet been the target of consumer pressure concerning palm oil consumption – largely because of a lack of awareness of the palm-derived volumes consumed along the supply chain. Instead, ire has been focused on the palm plantations and their largest customers, namely the food industry. NGO driven campaigns have damaged famous brand names and insisted on demands being met on their terms.
Given PKO is a major fatty alcohol feedstock and palm stearin/palm oil is powering fatty acid output, we ask if the H&PC industry might chose to pre-empt such a spotlight by certifying. If so, what are the inherent challenges and risks? And what can the experience of the food industry teach us?

Oleochemicals, derived from palm, coconut or tallow raw materials, have been valued ingredients in the Home and Personal Care (H&PC) industry for over a hundred years. Alongside waste animal fat, decades ago palm was an obvious choice of feedstock as, unlike other vegetable oils, it is separated into its constituent liquid and solid components before the liquid palm olein is used as a cooking oil. The solid palm stearin is left with minimal food applications and a price point reflecting this fact. Hence, the soap and personal care industry saw their opportunity. (Interestingly, the biofuel revolution has changed these historical price relationships, but palm stearin and palm oil remain economically attractive feedstocks for fatty acids and their myriad of derivative products.) 

In contrast, the detergent industry entangled itself with the palm sector for technical reasons, i.e. the need for a fatty alcohol chain length with 12 or 14 carbons. Chain lengths which in nature can only be found in palm kernel oil (PKO) and coconut oil (CNO). Indeed, the presence of lauric acid (C12 fatty acid) is what gave these two vegetable oils their common name of 'lauric oils'. Two-t ...

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