Environmentally friendly candles - Do they exist

Eco-friendly and natural products are growing more and more popular as we all become aware of the devastating impacts humans have on our world. One of the little-known but constant debates amongst ethical consumers is whether burning candles is safe for the environment. Soy wax candles are particularly popular but are they any better for the environment, or are we just buying into a fad?

A scented candle can have such an incredible effect on our mood so it’s little wonder that they are so popular today. I adore a fresh, zesty scent in my bathroom to make it feel clean, and a woody, oriental fragrance in my living room for cosying up on the couch. Scented candles can be what makes a house a home but is it worth it if it’s costing us the planet? I answer all these questions with some help from Vanessa Megan and take a look at what your scented candle options are if you want to keep burning them. 

Candle waxes

There are a few main types of wax used to make candles, and often it’s a combination of them, so it’s important you know the type of wax your candles are made from to know the impact of them. Here’s a quick cheat sheet.

Wax Type Source Pros Cons
Beeswax Worker bees inside their hive eat the honey created by honey bees and then excrete wax as a result The original and most ancient wax for making candles. It can be used in almost any form, easily mouldable and won’t droop. Non toxic when burning. Has a natural fragrance on its own. Produces negative ions, which not only helps remove pollution from the air It takes about 10 pounds of honey to produce one pound of beeswax. The wax is then used to construct the honeycomb – which stores the honey, and serves as the home where the queen, honey, worker and baby bees live. Taking this wax to use for human benefits contributes to the loss of bees, which greatly impacts agriculture. The most expensive to source.
Paraffin A by-product of the crude oil refining process Can have low, medium and high melting points making it the most versatile to create multiple types of products. Cheap to source. Some would argue that by being a by-product of crude oil it’s better to use as candles rather than discarding. For the most part, paraffin is considered as dangerous as petroleum. Studies have shown paraffin candles release 11 known toxic carcinogenic chemicals into the environment, including toluene and benzene, contributing to global warming. It burns very hot and fast. Produces the most soot of all the waxes. Not made from a renewable resource (petroleum is in limited supply).
Soy Hydrogenated soybean oil It burns longer and cooler than other waxes. Biodegradable and a renewable resource. It doesn’t release toxins when burnt. Water soluble so it’s easy to clean off surfaces. Non toxic when burning. It takes about 60 pounds of beans to make 11 pounds of oil. 96% of soy beans grown globally are Monsanto genetically-modified soy beans. Can be linked to deforestation for soy plantations. Pesticides and harsh chemicals used to grow non-organic soybeans. Very soft wax so it’s often mixed with palm to make firmer.
Palm Palm Oil, from palm fruit that is grown on African oil palm trees It can be used to harden other waxes and blends easily. Cheap to source. Can withstand high atmosphere temperatures so they don’t melt when not in use. Non toxic when burning. The environmental impacts of using any palm products is devastating. Deforestation and slave labour are just two of the major concerns. Say No To Palm Oil explains them all.

Wicks

The wick is important too. Cotton is the best source but even cotton wicks can contain lead and zinc, and we know how poisonous lead is. Despite it being a banned substance in candle production it still often slips past because it’s so difficult to regulate.

They may also be dipped in paraffin or palm wax to make them sturdier, which then brings in the cons mentioned above.

Packaging

Let’s not forget about our dear friend packaging. Candles in glass jars or reusable packaging is far better than packaging that will contribute to landfill.

If you do choose to buy 100% soy wax candles they will probably already be packaged in glass jars or reusable containers as they are the greener choice all round.

Scent sources

Possibly the greatest factor to consider in your purchase of candles is how they are scented. Fragrant oils which are synthetic, petrochemical-derived oils are extremely damaging for our health. A candle scented with organic, pure essential oil is the least harmful to the environment for sourcing, and the least harmful for health when burning.

What to look for

From this we know that burning candles of any kind isn’t good for the environment, but if you can’t give them up the best mainstream option for the environment and you is 100% organic, non-GMO soy wax (or hemp if you can find them!) with organic cotton or hemp wicks and scented with organic essential oils.

This is especially important if you are pregnant, have kids or pets because it’s the safest option health wise. You want to avoid wax blends or candles that don’t state the exact breakdown of ingredients.

Recommendations

Here are some candles that tick some or all of the boxes.

Opening image candles pictured: Voluspa, Circle 21Vanessa Megan and Ecoya

Do you enjoy scented candles? Did you know the difference between candle waxes? Let me know by commenting below!

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