Soap is made by combining fats and lye(sodium or potassium hydroxide dissolved in water or other liquid). One of the most important decisions for soap makers is what fats to use in their creations. At One Earth Body Care, our criteria for choosing fats are to:
Create effective soaps that feel fabulous and promote skin health.
Use materials sourced regionally.
Use materials produced with organic and Fair-Trade standards.
Maximize the use of byproducts and minimize use of primary food products.
What is tallow?Tallow is fat from ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, goats, deer) that has been rendered. Rendering involves heating the fat to remove protein and water and to kill pathogens (see Essential Rendering for detailed information on the process1). Large-scale meat processors sell their byproducts to rendering companies. Many smaller processors and butcher shops have to pay to have the waste hauled off so may dispose of it in the garbage. Billions of pounds of tallow are produced each year in the US alone2; pouring this much fat into landfills would cause an environmental and health crisis. Rendered fat is used in many ways, including in animal and pet food, aquaculture (fish food), plastics, inks, paints, cosmetics and other products1.
Tallow is the traditional soap-making fat.We use tallow in our soaps because it fulfills most of the criteria listed above: it makes the soap creamy and long-lasting, it’s produced locally and regionally, and it’s a byproduct that would otherwise go into the landfill. If you’re a soap maker, your local butcher or grocer might be happy to save their fat trimmings for you, as Joe’s Butcher Shop does for us.
I understand the ethical and environmental concernswith industrial animal production (I was a vegetarian for 10+ years). I believe that no part of an animal raised for food should be wasted and that converting tallow into fabulous products that people enjoy is a positive use of animal byproducts. The issues aren’t simple. In a previous post, I talked about common problems with “vegan” soaps, many of which are made with good intentions but use oils (such as palm oil) that cause ecological and social devastation.
We believe producers have a responsibilityto make products that benefit people and that avoid or minimize negative impacts to the planet. We believe that using tallow in our soaps is a responsible choice in both regards.
1Essential Rendering: All About The Animal By-Products Industry. Edited by David L. Meeker. Copyright 2006, National Renderers Association, Alexandria, Virginia.
2Fats and Oils: Oilseed Crushings, Production, Consumption and Stocks 2016 Summary (March 2017). USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service.