We all love candles but we also want to be environmentally conscious. Different types of candles and candle wax come with their own drawbacks and benefits but some are obviously more environmentally friendly than others. Let’s take a closer look. Are candles bad for the environment?
Candles are not bad for the environment. Soy wax, palm, coconut, rapeseed, and beeswax candles are renewable and clean-burning. However, paraffin wax candles are toxic and petroleum byproducts.
While soy, palm, coconut, and beeswax are all-natural, renewable, and clean some of them still have other aspects to consider when it comes to the environment. For example, are these waxes produced with sustainable and ecologically balanced practices in mind?
Let’s take an in-depth look at how sustainable and environmentally friendly each one of these waxes are.
Environmental Impact Of Candles
Paraffin Wax Candles
Paraffin wax candles are the least environmentally friendly candle wax option on the list, paraffin wax candles are a petroleum byproduct from the production of gasoline.
Paraffin wax candles release 10 grams of CO2 per hour. In contrast, the other wax options on the list are carbon neutral. Soy, palm, coconut, and beeswax only release carbon that was captured through their natural production.
You could argue that as long as we are producing gasoline we should also make sure none of it goes to waste by producing paraffin wax. The problem is that paraffin wax is not as healthy for you as soy wax and beeswax.
In addition to paraffin wax candles being bad for the environment, they are also bad for your health. Paraffin wax is known to release toluene and benzene as it burns, these are carcinogens, which are cancer-causing agents.
However, things get complicated when it comes to making candles.
Outside of beeswax, paraffin wax is one of the hardest waxes on this list. It is a type of wax that is almost always used in pillar candles. You would have a difficult time using pure vegetable wax to make a pillar candle.
For that reason, you will see paraffin blended with them in these types of candles. So even though paraffin wax candles are bad for the environment, you still see it being widely used today.
Soy Wax Candles
Soy wax is one of the most environmentally friendly candle waxes on the list. Candle wax is an ideal choice for candle making for a few reasons.
- It is widely produced
- It is renewable
- Carbon neutral
- Clean burning
- No waste
Soybeans are widely produced in the United States by American farmers. So in addition to the environmental benefits of soy wax you are also supporting domestic workers and businesses that produce it.
Soybeans are renewable and grown for a variety of reasons from making plastics, oils, and artificial meats. With such a diverse list of uses for soybeans, you do not have to worry about any harvests going to waste or being dependent on candle production.
Soy wax is carbon neutral. That means the carbon released through the burning process is offset by the carbon that is captured through the growth of the beans. Essentially meaning the next crop of soybeans grown will recapture the carbon released from using soy wax candles.
Soy wax candles are clean burning. They smoke the least out of nearly all types of wax and produce no harmful chemicals or carcinogens.
Nothing is wasted through the production of soy wax. Soybeans are mechanically pressed to remove soybean oil for candle making and the remainder of the bean is used in feed for livestock.
Palm Wax Candles
In theory, palm wax is clean, renewable, and environmentally friendly. It checks all of the same boxes as soybeans and it could be argued that it is even a better choice than soybeans, however, other problems exist.
In some countries, forests and ecosystems have been devastated by the clearing of land to produce palm oil. The United Nations estimates the majority of the forests in Indonesia will be destroyed within the decade.
In this article from AP News, they discuss how in Malaysia some palm plantations have forced labor, restriction of movement, and physical and sexual violence against workers. Conditions that essentially amounted to slave labor to produce palm oil.
The fallout from these revelations was so severe that some imports of palm oil were banned and some candle supply wholesalers quit offering palm wax altogether.
However, if you can find palm wax that is responsibly sourced then it is a great environmentally friendly wax to use for candle making.
Coconut Wax Candles
Coconut wax like soy wax, checks many of the boxes without the negativity associated with palm wax.
- Burns clean
- Sustainable practices
- Carbon neutral
Coconut wax burns clean without releasing toxins or soot and makes a great choice for all-natural candle wax. However, it is hard to make a candle solely out of coconut wax because the melting point is so low it is usually part of a blend with paraffin or soy.
In addition, coconut wax is renewable and for the most part, it is harvested and managed with sustainable practices not found in the palm industry.
Coconut wax is also carbon-neutral because when you burn the candles the carbon being released was originally trapped during the growing of the coconuts. So it is a net 0 release of carbon.
Beeswax is also a go to all-natural candle wax for many candle makers, however, I am not a fan of its use in many cases. Let’s look at some of the major points associated with beeswax.
- Clean burning
- Carbon neutral
Beeswax is clean burning and produces a pure looking flame hat you do not get in even some of the vegetable waxes.
Beeswax is also carbon neutral, as the carbon released when the candles are burned was captured by the plants the bees make the beeswax from.
It is also somewhat of a renewable resource. Bee keepers can take some of the wax away from their bees and the bees will work to replace it.
This is where the problem arises for beeswax for some people. It is obviously not vegan, and as bees lose a portion of the colony for the harvest of the wax it puts a strain on the colony.
For that reason, some people choose not to use beeswax.
Rapeseed Wax Candles
Rapeseed wax is also all-natural, carbon-neutral, and vegan. It is made from rapeseed and it is popular in Europe. I found 22lbs of rapeseed wax on eBay in the UK for $45, but shipping was $80.
If you are in Europe this might be a great choice for you, but if you are in the United States I do not think it’s as cost-effective.
How much CO2 is released by candles?
Paraffin wax candles release 10 grams of CO2 per hour. Beeswax and soy wax candles release CO2 that had already been captured from the atmosphere by plants, making them carbon neutral.
To put this in perspective, in the state of California the electricity generated to power one CFL bulb is about 5 grams of CO2 per hour.
How energy efficient are candles?
Candles are far less efficient than their electric counterparts. An 18w CFL light bulb produces 900 lumens. An 11w LED bulb produces 900 lumens. While a candle produces 12.57 lumens. This means that LED and CFL bulbs produce 71x more light.
What candle is the most eco friendly?
Soy wax candles are the most eco friendly. They are natural, carbon-neutral, and vegan. While beeswax candles are also carbon neutral and natural they are not vegan. Harvesting honey and wax from beehives puts a strain on the colony, and our honey bee population is already at risk.
Full Candle Wax Price Comparison
- Paraffin Wax – $2.50 / pound.
- Soy Wax – $1.99 / pound.
- Beeswax – $10.00 / pound.
- Coconut Wax – $2.79 / pound.
- Rapeseed Wax – $5.68 / pound (including shipping).
I would like to add the reason beeswax is so popular given its price point in comparison to soy and even coconut wax is because it has a much higher melt temperature.
For this reason, beeswax is often used for pillar candles, and candles that are not in containers. If you tried to use coconut wax or soy wax in the same situations you would have a huge and messy puddle of wax. If you do find yourself in a messy wax situation be sure to check out my article titled how to remove candle wax: the ultimate guide.
This is why soy, coconut, and even rapeseed are primarily used in containers. Alternatively, this can also be a reason why paraffin wax has stuck around so long given its environmental and health negatives.
Frequently Asked Questions
Not all scented candles are bad for the environment. Some scented candles are made with natural essential oils and natural types of wax such as soy and coconut and do not have a negative impact on the environment. However, paraffin wax is a petroleum byproduct and produces toxins as it burns.
Candles are environmentally friendly when they are made with natural vegetable waxes and natural fragrance oils. Essential oils can be naturally produced to give candles their scent and candle wax can be made from coconuts, soybeans, and other natural sources.
Beeswax candles are generally considered to be the cleanest burning of all candles. In addition, the flame on a beeswax candle is said to be more pure and bright than the flame of any other type of candle for that reason some people even say beeswax candles clean the air as a natural air purifier as they burn.
In conclusion, if you are looking for candles that are not bad for the environment, you have some options. If you want to be as environmentally friendly and natural as possible I would probably stick to soy or coconut container candles.
You can buy one in a mason jar or a jelly jar and keep the jar when your candle is done. Essentially eliminating waste from the equation, and leaving you with an extra container to do something with.
If you MUST have a pillar candle then you can rest easy knowing that it is natural and clean. In addition, the wax was going to be harvested anyway (they have to get the honey somehow).
All of the above are preferable to paraffin wax.