Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Essential Oils = Green? Perhaps Not.

Sharon Elvin, of Platypus Dreams and I spoke on the phone recently about using essential oils and the Green Movement (can I Init. Cap. that??). Sharon makes a BIG point about the strain on the environment to produce these natural oils. Are we saving the planet by pumping all that pollution into the air to produce them or are we being GREEN by using them? Here is her blog entry in its entirety:

Are Essential Oils All That Green For The Environment?

Normally I don't talk about green and clean and all that goes with this because we are always trying to do our best and live with as little impact as possible to our environment.

I have been pondering over this and looking for research on this topic for quite some time. I haven't seen many talk about or even discuss the carbon footprint of essential oils and one would have thought so with the natural movement. Some are really trying their best but some are just jumping on the green and clean marketing bandwagon to try and get a marketing angle or sell more of their wares.

So what does it take to produce the essential plant oils we use? Lets' have a look at what I have found.

From some studies I have found the following:

Lavender Bud and Stem - 41.6l/ha

16513kg/ha crop plant including stems and flowers
41.3litres EO/ha
399kg of crop / 1 litre
399gr per mil of eo
So that is of plant matter per mil of eo doesn't sound much on the small scale of things.

Chamomile - 6.6l/ha

26400kg/ha crop plant matter yeild
6.6litres/ha essential oil yeild
4000kg plant matter / litre of eo
400gr / gram eo

Rosemary - 11.5litres/ha

Thyme - 11.8litres/ha

Yarrow - 5l/ha

So what does this all tell us? It takes quite a lot of plant matter to produce 1 litre of essential oil.

I feel we need to think about the following with our essential oils:

Land preparation - diesel to run equipment
Land and crop maintenance - diesel to run equipment
Tilling weeds - mechanical driven diesel powered equipment
Irrigation - energy source of some kind to power pumps unless gravity fed
Herbicides used - power source required to spray the crop if required
Pesticides - power source required to spray the crop if required
Harvesting of the crop - mechanical energy source, low cost labor maybe available in some countries
Cartage of the crop to the distillery - energy source to power vehicles
Energy needed to run the distillery - wood, coal, gas or electric driven
Energy required to bottle the distilled product - electric driven in most cases pumped or gravity fed into vats or drums or hand distilled.

If electricity was used as a power source how was it made now a lot of people don't think about where the power comes from when they turn on a switch. It just happens like magic.

What is driving your local power plant is it burning coal, hydro electricity, wind generated, solar powered. With a coal powered power plant think on the following and ponder for a while, where did the coal come from, was it local, how much energy was expended getting the coal out of the ground and how much was expended on washing the coal (yes they wash and crush coal), more energy.

Now with this whole energy thing and lowering the carbon foot print so to speak, well it's huge, I have only touched the tip of the iceberg on a couple of issues that I have had time to write about.

So next time when you grab for that bar of essential oil soap, treasure it.

When you switch on a light bulb think of where did the power come from? How far has it travelled to get to my light bulb, what made the power. Do I need all those lights on, switch some off. It maybe just one little crumb less of coal that is burnt and choofing off into the atmosphere.

Till next time Cheers.

Stats Ref:

Reprinted from Platypus Dreams Blog with permission


Anonymous said...

We actually talk a lot about these issues in our family...seems like at least every other day. When possible, and often it's not, we try to get things from organic farmers/companies because they don't use herbicides and pesticides as much (and uses the more environmentally friendly types if they do; granted, that doesn't take carbon footprint into consideration, but at least the less toxic herbi/pesticides aren't as harmful to as many things). Some organic farms also don't till (dh practices the no-till farming method).

This is a great post because if everyone thought about these issues regularly, perhaps there'd be less waste of resources, which in turn will save on energy.

Thanks for posting it!

Blandine said...

Thanks for all this! I did not know how much it costed to our planet to produce these oils. But I do not think that fragrance oils are better... so what's next? unscented soaps?

Regina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Regina said...

Sorry about the above comment. I deleted since I spotted a typo that totally changed my thought. ***
I totally agree that essential oils are very precious and this article gives details on exactly that. Teresa is right that not all plants require tilling. Regardles, we SHOULD be mindful and turn off a light and not use more of anything than we actually need. That said, I'm not going to risk using synthetics because one might think it's better for the environment because essential oils take so much effort. I don't buy that at all. I'm not saying that you did...just reading between the lines to a conclusion some might take. :-D Nice to meet you by the way!

Meghan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meghan said...

It is a double edge sword really it comes down to how the essential oils are carred for and harvested. On that note using the synthetic alternatives are probably MORE costly to the enviroment and our selves, once you figure all the research and development, animal testing,the chemical by-products of making that synthetic, energy to process, run off, that most of these synthetics are petrolium by products or worse yet known irritents, formaldahyde donors, carcinogens, and hormonal disruptors, I'll take essential oils hands down any day. Yes the Earth is precious, and the essential oils are precious, but I can't believe the foot print of cultivating them is more than the synthetic alternatives and potential health risks.

Telesilla said...

Interesting article and one that brings up some of the problems inherent in trying to be as green as possible. Thanks for posting it!

Carrie ~ Gigi said...

Great information & certainly something to think about.

Vince said...

This a really contempary discussion and raises a few questions.

Some essential oils are wildcraft, so they just grow naturally. Like in the Dalmation islands, many oils are harvested from natural plants. They use wood and steam stills. So the energy to cost ratio isn't so bad.

A world without rose oil or sandalwood oil wouldn't make scents. ;)