What is the most environmentally friendly wax? That is an interesting and complex question. To answer it, you must first define “environmentally friendly”, and then you must look at the different links in the supply chain to ascertain whether or not a wax is environmentally friendly.
The Collins online dictionary defines environmentally friendly as having no or the least possible environmental impact. Under this heading, some people might like to add other buzzwords such as “cruelty free”, meaning that no animals were harmed in the process. Another consideration, although it might not be always thought of as environmental is “humanely and sustainably harvested.”
As you can see, these words could make selecting the most environmentally friendly wax a complicated and difficult process.
The most environmentally friendly wax overall is beeswax and coconut wax. They are waxes that can have the least impact on the environment because they are produced in a way that has positive, have low, or no environmental impact, and can be produced in a way that is cruelty free, ecologically sound, and any living things are treated in kind and sustainable ways – including a safe working situation for humans, as well as paying them a decent wage.
Whew! That’s a seriously tall order. The real truth is that almost every wax source has some kind of environmental impact. Probably the best two out of six common sources for wax are beeswax and coconut wax, but even they have their downsides.
Your first thought might be that all beeswax is a sustainable, renewable resource produced by bees. You might imagine friendly bees who pollinate apple orchards, gardens, alfalfa fields and more, and as a part of their work create honey and honeycomb as a result of their labors. In the best-case scenario, the beekeeper values their colony of industrious workers and makes sure that they are protected from disease and predators, while taking only as much of the honey and comb as the colony can spare.
If you go back in history, you will read of early settlers and pioneers saying that they “robbed a bee tree.”
The sobering truth is that the bees produce honey and wax for themselves. Humans exploit their industry by taking a portion of their labors. Honey and beeswax can be sustainably harvested by always leaving the bees enough for themselves. However, beekeeping has its dark side as much as dairy farming, beef, pig, and chicken farming or any other farming practice that harvests animal products or by-products. Feeding the bees sugar instead of leaving them honey created from blossoms might be the least of the cruel things that can happen to these industrious colony creatures.
Mismanagement of a hive can weaken the colony and cause it to die. At that point, you have no more beeswax and no more honey. Incidentally, it also means fewer pollinators to help keep crops growing.
So, while beeswax can be harvested sustainably, humanely (for both the human and the bees), and in an environmentally friendly way, too often they are not. To be sure, check the supply chain for companies that use beeswax.
Carnauba wax is obtained by drying leaves of the carnauba tree, or Copernicia prunifera then beating them to remove the wax coating. The tree produces coating during the dry season to help prevent moisture loss through its leaves. You might think, “That’s all right. Trees can always grow more leaves.” But a palm is not quite like a deciduous tree that will drop its leaves and then grow new ones. If too many leaves are cut from a single tree, it can stunt its growth, harm its health, and leave it vulnerable to disease.
There is another aspect of harvesting carnauba wax. Carnauba trees are frequently home to Rhodnius prolixus and rhodnius nasutus, beetles that are known to transmit Chagas’ disease in much the same way that mosquitos transmit malaria. While precautions can be taken, workers cutting the leaves might be bitten by these bugs.
Carnauba can be harvested in an environmentally friendly way by limiting the number of leaves taken from a tree and by protecting the workers from those crazy little bugs.
Also known as euphorbia antisyphillitica because it was once used a a medicine for syphyllis, candelilla is a perennial that grows in Mexico, Texas and New Mexico. To obtain the wax, stems and leaves are boiled in large vats, then cooled and the wax skimmed off. Euphorbia cerifera has been designated as endangered. While this is like to be due to harvesting practices, environmental changes might also be responsible.
Properly managed, this perennial could be a renewable resource. However, because it is a perennial that does not grow from seed, harvesting practices are an extremely important consideration in whether this is an ecological source of wax.
The good news is that there is a history of growing it as a cultivated crop. However, there are some other concerns with candelilla, including that it is harmful to cattle and some other animals.
Coconut wax could be considered an environmentally sound crop, depending on where it is grown. Coconut wax is made from hydrogenated coconut oil, which is extracted from the nut that is grown on the tree. A single coconut tree might produce as many as 150 nuts in one year. These nuts can provide a variety of products, including edible coconut meat, coconut milk, coconut oil (extracted from the meats) and various products created from the coconut shell. The nuts grow inside a husk which can be shredded and made into coconut coir. Coir is used in a variety of ways, ranging from eco-friendly packing and insulation to soil amendment fiber.
Coconut trees are an easy-care crop in the tropics and are sustainable in areas with lots of rainfall. With that said, even though coconut trees love heat and are tolerant of poor soil, they are not a good tree to grow in a desert environment because they require a great deal of water to survive and grow.
With that said, a coconut grove is a good investment in tropical areas where large amounts of rainfall can be expected. Not only are they a source of coconut oil and wax, nearly every part of a coconut tree can be used in some way. This makes the production of coconut oil a good resource for farmers who grow crops in warm, moist, climates.
As you might guess, soy wax comes from soybeans. Soybeans are an annual farm crop in many areas, so soy wax should have a low environmental impact. But as they say in the old Westerns, hold on there, pardner. First, soy, corn, and wheat are three crops that are directly or indirectly influential in deforestation because older or virgin lands are being cleared for farming. Another difficulty is that soy wax is made from soybean oil that must be extracted from the soybeans, and then hydrogenated to make it solid enough to become wax. This is an extensive manufacturing process that is not necessarily environmentally friendly.
The good news is that soy wax could be environmentally friendly if growing practices were better, and if the manufacturing process was environmentally safe. It is certainly a renewable resource, and the solid byproducts from the oil extraction process can be and usually are made into animal feed.
Like coconut wax, you have to ask “What soybean, grown where?”
Because paraffin is made from fossil fuel oil, it is probably the least environmentally friendly, and most ecologically unsound choice for candle wax. Although in one sense of the word, the world’s oil supply might be considered renewable if one were thinking in centuries rather than years or days. Paraffin is also the wax that is most likely to add pollutants to your home environment. Therefore, it is very much at the bottom of the heap when it comes to “environmentally friendly.”
Frequently Asked Questions
If beekeeping practices are so bad, why select beeswax as an environmentally friendly wax?
Bees are important to the environment. While there are other pollinators, there are some types of plants that simply will not grow well without a reliable pollinator on hand. When correctly kept with respect for the bee colony’s needs, bees will produce wax and honey. With that said, practices such as robbing the bees of all their honey or boiling the whole hive to extract the comb are both cruel and unnecessary. When properly kept in an area where they are provided with an abundance of blossoms, bees will produce enough to share. Encouraging kind, sustainable, bee farming might help keep our tiny pollinators healthily busy and producing.
Why coconut oil wax instead of carnauba?
Coconut oil is extracted from the nut of the tree. While in the long run if all the coconuts are used to make coconut or coconut oil for people to consume or use, there will not be any seeds for new trees. However, processing the coconut seeds will not kill the tree. If too many leaves are cut from the carnauba tree, it will sicken and die.
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Meet Shawn Chun: Entrepreneur and Candle Business Fan.
I’m a happy individual who happens to be an entrepreneur. I have owned several types of businesses in my life from a coffee shop to an import and export business to an online review business plus a few more and now I create online candle business resources for those interested in starting new ventures. It’s demanding work but I love it. I do it for those passionate about their business and their goals. That’s why when I meet a candle business owner at a craft fair, farmers market, retail location or anywhere else I see myself. I know how hard the struggle is to obtain and retain clients, finding good employees all while trying to stay competitive. That’s why I created Candle Business Boss: I want to help candle business owners like you build a thriving business that brings you endless joy and supports your ideal lifestyle.