Saturday, February 26, 2011

Go Nuts!

At a small organic food retailer, located in a three story complex dedicated to health and wellbeing in downtown Singapore, I made a marvellous discovery... organic, fairly traded ‘Soap Nuts’!
Soap nuts grabbed my attention, as during my pursuit to purchase and use only natural cosmetics and beauty products, the realisation that house-hold cleaning products also contained harmful chemicals hit me. Not only do house-hold cleaning products such as kitchen and bathroom sprays, window cleaners and laundry detergent harm the environment, but they also harm our bodies.
Just think- we wash our clothes with laundry detergents that promise to ‘eliminate stains’ with their powerful formula. We then wear these clothes day and day out with no thought to the fact that the powerful chemicals that removed those stains from our clothes still remain on the fabric in small quantities and slowly sink into our skin. Or we wash the dishes using a product that promises to be ‘tough on grease,’ let the dishes dry and then use them to eat and drink. Small remnants of the chemical that was tough on the grease remains on the cup or spoon you use and will end up in your stomach in small quantities. Such products often contain chemicals associated with eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, or other human health issues, but such allergic reactions are often not associated with the chemicals used in the house on a daily basis.
 Once we are done cleaning, these chemicals run down the drain, and are released into the ocean having an adverse affect on the environment. For example, alkylphenol ethoxylates, a common surfactant ingredient in cleaners, has been shown in laboratory studies to cause adverse reproductive effects on wildlife exposed to polluted waters (National Research Council, 1999).
Of course there are many green, biodegradable and environmentally friendly cleaning products available on the market today. However, what drew me to Soup Nuts were that they are just that: nuts that naturally produce a soap like substance.
                Soapnuts are an environmentally friendly sustainably produced, bio-degradable and compostable way of cleaning your laundry. Grown wild in India, for centuries these nuts (sapindus mukorossi) have been used for many purposes including removing tarnish from jewellery and treating all sorts of ailments from contaminated soil to migraines to epilepsy. They are most widely recognised as being an effective and environmentally friendly natural detergent however can be used for a whole host of other uses.
                 The nuts contain the active natural washing ingredient saponin. Similar to soap, when the shells of the soapnut come in contact with water the saponin is released and suds are produced - these are excellent for cleaning laundry and leaving it beautifully soft. Because your laundry water will only contain pure natural ingredients compared to traditional detergents, it can much more usefully be reused as grey water to reduce water consumption (your garden and plants will thank you as well!’ (Soap in a Nutshell, 2011)
As mentioned, other uses of the Soap Nut include:
  • Multi-purpose cleaner
  • Dishwashing detergent
  • Jewellery cleaner... the list goes on
And not only are Soap Nuts good for you and the environment, their production benefits communities in India through the provision of a sustainable income. Soap Nuts, although not certified fair trade as yet, are sourced sustainably, ensuring the community in India that grows and harvests the soap nuts are paid a fair price for their product;
                ‘By purchasing soapnuts you are helping maintain the natural habitat and environment which has existed for centuries and are providing a living direct to some of the more impoverished areas of India.’ (Soap in a Nutshell, 2011)
If you are not yet convinced, I have used the Soup Nuts to wash four loads of washing and four sink loads of dishes thus far and have found them to be most effective. My clothes have come out fresh, clean and stainless and the dishes have been degreased very well indeed. I have to say I am quite impressed and surprised as to how effective they really are.
You can order 1kg of Soap Nuts here for a great price of AUD $35, which amounts to approximately 400 washes, or 12c a wash!
Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment, National Research Council, National Academy Press, 1999
Soap in a Nutshell, Retrieved 27 February 2011 from

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Look Out! Its Palm Oil...

Last week I had the most incredible breakfast meeting. It wasn’t with a CEO, or a celebrity, but rather I had breakfast with an endangered species!
That’s right; I shared my toast with one of the great apes, specifically a family of Orang-utans.
I was able to enjoy this experience at the famed program ‘Breakfast with the Orang-utans’ at Singapore Zoo. Most were unfortunately rescued as pets from people’s homes but this meant they were very used to humans. One young male even touched me lightly on the shoulder. I felt so honoured to be in such close proximity so such a beautiful, intelligent yet highly endanger creature.
I did have to wondered if my children would ever have the chance to meet an Orang-utan...
Orang-utans are native to Indonesia and Malaysia and are the only members of the great ape family that reside in Asia.  They share 97% of their DNA with humans and have the intelligence of a three year old child! Looking into their eyes was truly like looking into the eyes of a fellow human being. They seemed to have certain wisdom about them.
Well after my wonderful breakfast I was horrified to find a KFC restaurant located just outside the zoo gates. How could this zoo that promotes Orang-utan conservation be so hypocritical as to have a KFC within its property?
You see, as mentioned Orang-utans are an endangered species with an estimated 60,000 left in the wild (WWF,2010).
According to WWF;
            Habitat destruction and fragmentation is by far the greatest threat to this species. This problem is caused by commercial logging, and forest clearance for oil palm plantations and agriculture.
And to my knowledge, KFC was one of the biggest consumers of this product called palm oil. However, in doing research for this blog I discovered that due to consumer action, they have stopped using palm oil to produce their food- so I take back all of my bad thoughts about Singapore zoo being hypocritical!!!
However, in saying that, palm oil, the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia, and the number one threat to the existence of Orang-utan’s, is found in over 50% of all packed food on our shelves! If your shopping list includes packaged products like bread, biscuits, chocolate, chips, sandwich spreads, ice cream, shower cream and shampoo, then it’s likely you are buying palm oil (WWF, 2010).

Palm oil production is not only responsible for threatening the existence of Orang-utans, it is also responsible for threatening the environment in other ways and violating human rights;
                ‘If cultivated in an unsustainable way palm oil can have negative impacts on people and the environment. These include indiscriminate forest clearing, habitat loss of threatened and endangered species, poor air quality from burning forests and peatlands, and disregard for the rights and interests of local communities. A report published in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) acknowledges that palm oil plantations are now the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. Of even more concern is the fact that demand for palm oil is predicted to increase, and most of the remaining suitable areas for plantations are forest.’ WWF
So, if palm oil is present in 50% of the products on our shelves, what can we do. Something that I have been doing week by week as I do my grocery shopping is quite simple- read the ingredients on the packet. You should probably be doing this anyway for health reasons. If palm oil that is not certified from a sustainable source is listed, simply do not buy the product and look for an alternative on the selves. If you feel so inclined write to the company that you chose not to buy from and inform them of your decision. This is the only way companies will change their ways- consumer demand!
What is palm oil? (2010).World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 15 February 2011 from